Interview by Scott Preston
Connecting traditional songs of yesterday with their own original and inventive sounds of today, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge create astonishingly powerful acoustic music rich in heritage, heart and hot licks! With a style that evokes both atomic rock energy and dynamic tonal purity, Keel and his ensemble are intent upon taking their instruments and their voices to their fullest potential for emotion and amazement. While paying respect to the legacy left by the forefathers of bluegrass, Keel bridges the gap between traditional and contemporary American Mountain Music. Larry Keel & Natural Bridge includes flatpicking guitar master Larry Keel (guitar, vocals), Jenny Keel (bass fiddle, vocals), Mark Schimick (mandolin, vocals), and, Jason Flournoy (banjo, vocals).
Larry Keel & Natural Bridge will also be sharing the stage with Cincinnati, OH’s own Rumpke Mountain Boys on 2/25/10 At Victorian Midnight Cafe in Columbus, OH and on 2/27/10 at Play By Play Cafe in Cincinnati, OH.
Cincy Groove: So I understand you are working on an album with Keller Williams?
Larry Keel: Yeah we just did some work in the studio about 2 weeks ago. Spent 2 days in the studio and got a lot done. I’m not sure of the exact release date, I’m waiting on Keller to make an announcement about that. It’s some really good stuff, it’s a continuation of Grass, but it’s what we are doing now. It’s really some high energy music.
Cincy Groove: How long have you known Keller?
Larry Keel: I met Keller about 1999. We were always playing the same clubs here in Virginia. We always ran into each other and had a great time playing music together. Just managed to stay in touch with each other, its a beautiful thing.
Cincy Groove: Who are some other people you have played with?
Larry Keel: Actually, just recently I played a bunch of shows in the Pacific Northwest with Adam Aijala from Yonder Mountain String Band. We had a great time and I just wanted to put it out there that there will be some East Coast shows coming up with Adam and myself. You can get a taste of it on Youtube, I believe there are a few videos up there from the west coast tour. The dates with Adam should be coming out in February.
Cincy Groove: I know you are proud of this, Tell me about the Fishin and Pickin website.
Larry Keel: Its something I have been wanting to do for a long time. Touring around being a musician I end up meeting a lot of fisherman and also a lot of great musicians who like to fish as well. So we decided to combine two things we really love playing music and fishing. We started this website and are offering advertisement to fisherman and at the same time putting out news about fishing and music. It also gives people who enjoy fishing and music to come together and talk about it. In the process of working on this project I meet a lot of people who organize fishing tournaments or just big events down on the river. They always need music at their events but can never get it worked out. The title “Fishin and Pickin” came from when I would be pickin and Jenny would ask me “What are you doing, thinking about fishing?”. I would say “I don’t don’t know sort of”. She said it should be picking first then fishing. In my mind I got my priorities straight, I named it Fishin and Pickin (laughing). We are always adding new material to the website and the new music I have coming out will be released the website as well.
Cincy Groove: I see that you have played Jorma’s Fur Peace Ranch here in southern Ohio. Did you have a good time?
Larry Keel: Absolutely, it was quite an honor, I got to play with Jorma and David Bromberg. It really was an amazing experience. Jorma is doing it his way and having a great time doing it. He is just a really nice guy.
Cincy Groove: Has music always been something that you have wanted to make you main focus in your life?
Larry Keel: I have always wanted to pursue a music career. When I decided to make music my career focus, I had a friend in Orlando, FL give me a call. He said there is a want ad in the newspaper for musicians. It was for a gig playing music at the Tokyo Japan Disneyland. We went down and auditioned and they really liked what we were doing. So they sent us out to Tokyo Disneyland for 6 months. We played 6 days a week and about 7 half hour shows per day. We would play for a half hour and then be off for a half hour. I was playing most of the time, but I did get to see the country and the people were really wonderful. It was a culture shock, I was only 18 and hadn’t been out of the Blue Ridge Mountains up until going to Japan.
Cincy Groove: What was it like playing Telluride for the first time back in the early 1990’s?
Larry Keel: An amazing experience. I wasn’t much of a competitive player at that point, just did my own thing. But in 1993 I played in the guitar competition and ended up winning. A lot of good things happened from winning that and really helped launch my bluegrass career. When I first went out there it was under the advice of my good friend Mark Vann from Leftover Salmon, who has since passed, I miss him a lot. When I won the guitar contest I got to play up on stage so at that point I was really nervous. I had never played to a crowd of that size at that point in my career. I went back out to Telluride in 94 and 95. In 1995 I took my band out with me. In 95 I played in the guitar competition and won, which was a great honor once again. Then my mandolin player, Danny Nicely won 1st place in the mandolin contest. The guy that was playing banjo for us Will Lee, I believe won 2nd place in the banjo contest. Then the band as a whole won the band competition and had the honor of opening the festival with our own set. That was a great year for us and we felt a lot more confident in our playing at that stage in our career. We still love Colorado to this day and try to get out there at least once a year.
Cincy Groove: How did your NYE show go at the Grey Eagle? I heard it was quite a spectacular event.
Larry Keel: It was truly a wonderful time. Bawn in the Mash opened up and absolutely killed it, they did a great job. Dwayne Brooke then performed, he is a gypsy jazz style guitarist, had a great set and I also played some with him. My brother Gary Keel was tearing it up, he was really on fire that night. A lot of folks came out and it was a great time.
A blast from the past – here is a link to some photos I took of Larry & Jenny Keel, along with Mark Vann (Leftover Salmon) back on 1.19.2001 at Stanleys Pub in Cincinnati, OH
Larry Keel & Natural Bridge:
Larry Keel (Guitar)
Jenny Keel (Bass)
Mark Schimick (Mandolin)
Jason Flournoy (Banjo)
Feb 19 2010 Mountain State Brewing Company – Thomas, West Virginia
Feb 20 2010 123 Pleasant St. – Morgantown, West Virginia
Feb 25 2010 Victorian’s Midnight Cafe – Columbus, Ohio
Feb 26 2010 Rex Theatre – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Feb 27 2010 Play by Play Cafe – Cincinnati, Ohio w/ Rumpke Mountain Boys
Mar 5 2010 V Club – Huntington, West Virginia
Mar 6 2010 Dantes Bar – Frostburg, Maryland
Mar 14 2010 Elk River Inn and Restaurant at Snow Shoe – Slatyfork, West Virginia
Mar 17 2010 PJ Kelly’s – w/ Davisson Brothers Clarksburg, West Virginia
Mar 18 2010 The Double Door Inn – Charlotte, North Carolina
Mar 19 2010 New Earth Music Hall – Athens, Georgia
Mar 20 2010 Pour House – Charleston, South Carolina
Apr 2 2010 Pisgah Brewery – Black Mountain, North Carolina
Apr 3 2010 CHEROKEE FARMS – KEEL FAMILY FUNCTION w/ JOSH PHILLIPS FOLK FESTIVAL and COL. BR LaFayette, Georgia
Apr 10 2010 GREENFIELD LAKE AMPHITHEATRE – KELLER and the KEELS at Greenfield Lake Amphithea Wilmington, North Carolina
Apr 17 2010 Clementine – Harrisonburg, Virginia
Apr 30 2010 French Broad River Festival – Hot Springs, North Carolina
May 5 2010 SHEPHERDSTOWN OPERA HOUSE – Larry Keel & Adam Aijala (YMSB) Shepherdstown, West Virginia
May 29 2010 DEL FEST – Cumberland, Maryland