Larry Keel (born November 25, 1968 in Manassas, Virginia) is a bluegrassmusician "reared in" Southwest Virginia who's been performing "seriously" since 1976. He was a founding member of Magraw Gap in 1990 with Danny Knicely and Will Lee. He performs with his wife, bassist Jenny Keel, in The Larry Keel Experience -- and with other musicians in other groups. He has released over a dozen albums, the latest being Experienced in 2016, which he recorded with his group, Larry Keel Experience. He is married to his bass player, Jenny Keel.
Larry Keel was born in Manassas, Virginia in 1968. He was taught guitar by his father James Keel, who played banjo. His brother Gary, who played guitar -- and was twelve years older -- bought him one when he was seven. He began playing seriously in 1975. Between 1976 and 1985 he performed bluegrass music in a number of "semi-professional situations", e.g., bluegrass and fiddler conventions, community events, barbecues, etc.
In 1990, Keel and "long-time musical friend" Will Lee -- son of guitarist Ricky Lee from Ralph Stanley's band in the 1970s -- founded a "progressive string band" named Magraw Gap. Through 1993 the new group traveled throughout the Shenandoah Valley competing in bluegrass competitions, winning first place at several festivals. In 1993 Keel entered the guitar competition at Telluride Bluegrass Festival and won first place. In 1994, Magraw Gap began touring regularly. In 1995 it won the bluegrass band competition at. Keel won the guitar competition there again in 1996.
As Keel relates, Jennifer "Jenny" Newmark "was always a huge supporter of the live music scene in our area of Virginia," but somehow they'd "never crossed paths at all those jams and festivals." They met "at a little tavern in (his) town" where she came to see "one of her favorite local bluegrass heroes (Gary Ruley) play" in March 1994. When Keel "got up on stage with Gary to pick a tune," joining Will Lee who was also sitting in that show, she was "blown away" by his musicianship, particularly by their take on the David Grisman tune "Eat My Dust".
When Keel walked off stage and passed her in the crowd she told him, "That was the best E.M.D. I've ever heard!" She concludes, "You know how it goes! We traded phone numbers...it sure seemed like love at first sight . ."
The future Jenny Keel had never played a stringed instrument before she met Keel. "I had played piano by ear, had been in competition choral groups in high school (so I knew music theory, just not how to play a guitar or bass)," she says. "Getting together with Larry and his buddies made my progress in learning the bass fly along quickly."
Larry Keel Experience
In September 1996, Keel split with Magraw Gap and formed the Larry Keel Experience, made up of himself on guitar, his wife on bass, and other musicians he'd worked with over the years. Over the next several years the group would record a number of "adventurous albums".
Larry Keel and Natural Bridge
In January 2005 Keel created a new band, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge -- consisting of himself on guitar, his wife Jenny Keel on bass, Mark Schimick on mandolin, and Will Lee on banjo -- who have toured and recorded extensively together.
Starting in 1996, when Keller Williams recorded "Buzz" with Magraw Gap as supporting musicians -- and the group released their self-titled CD -- Keel has been active recording with different musical acts and talents. The Larry Keel Experience 1997 "Miles & Miles" CD featured 20 special guests. In 1998 Keel worked with Curtis Burch, recent Grammy Award-winner for "The Great Dobro Sessions" produced by Jerry Douglas and Tut Taylor.
Larry Keel Experience released "Larry Keel, Curtis Burch & the Experience" with Billy Constable in 2002. Keel's 2004 "Journey" CD, recorded at his home in Natural Bridge, included guest artists David VanDeventer, Danny Knicely, Will Lee, Gary Ruley, John Flower, Robert Mabe, Slinky Cobblestone, and Morgan Morrison. In 2009 Larry Keel and Natural Bridge released and almost entirely original "Backwoods", co-produced by Keller Williams and mastered by Bill Wolf. The album received highly favorable reviews. The Wounded Messenger noted, "Perhaps no song better encapsulates the group's sound than the constantly shifting 'Crocodile Man,' which meanders through steep, jazzy terrain often explored by progressive acoustic acts but perfected here."
Larry and Jenny Keel's second album with Keller Williams, performing as Keller and the Keels, "Thief" went #1 on Billboard Charts and stayed there for several weeks in a row.
The Sound (1998) -- features 11 out of 12 original songs, e.g., "Pioneers" and "Jerry's Farewell". Recorded live in the Keel home. Both instrumental and vocal accompaniment pieces are on the album. [Larry Keel Experience]
Larry Keel Experience (2000) -- recorded with superior engineering skill by Mike Brantley, former bass player for The Del McCoury Band. Features original acoustic music by Larry Keel, Will Lee, David Via, and Dr. John Flower -- as well as earlier works penned by pioneers of progressive bluegrass music John Hartford, Ben Eldridge, and The Dillards. [Larry Keel Experience]
Journey (2004) -- fully self-produced, 14-song album interspersed with familiar, traditional themes and "some startling new territories". [Larry Keel]
The Keel Brothers, Vol. 1 (2005) -- studio recording that with older brother Gary (senior by 12 years) captures a major aspect of Larry Keel's "formation as a master flatpicking guitarist and a preserver of Appalachian and classic American Country music." Draws on selections from the earliest Stanley Brothers, Hank Williams, Doc Watson, The Country Gentlemen, and fiddle and flatpicking tunes that were always part of Keel family jam sessions. [The Keel Brothers]
Larry Keel & Natural Bridge (2005) -- pays respects to forefathers of mountain music who "set the standard of how it should be played and sung." Features Larry Keel on guitar and vocals, Mark Schimick on mandolin and vocals, Andy Thorn on banjo, and Jenny Keel on bass and vocals. [Larry Keel & Natural Bridge]
Grass (2006) -- self-released album containing a "delightfully bizarre collection of anything-but-traditional bluegrass songs." Featuring ten songs, "originals and unexpected cover tunes, that yield to a pure love of music." [Keller and The Keels]
Classic (2012) -- nine out of the 12 compositions written by Keel, bandmates, and songwriting friends. [Larry Keel & Natural Bridge]
Experienced (2016) -- entirely original showcases of Keel's and bandmate Will Lee's songwriting, singing, and instrumentals. With Jenny Keel on upright bass and harmony vocals. Recorded at Wally Cleaver Studio in Fredericksburg, Virginia with Jeff Covert (engineer and guest drummer). Mastered by Bill Wolf (Willie Nelson, Tony Rice, Doc Watson) in Arlington, Virginia. Guest-musician-friends who appear on various tracks include: Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Keller Williams, Jason Carter (The Del McCoury Band), Mike Guggino (Steep Canyon Rangers), and Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass). [Larry Keel Experience]
As NPR notes, "Keel leads a band dedicated to taking fiery, authentic bluegrass around the world."
Larry is the yin and the yang . . he will break your heart with a waltz, but he can also scare the hell out of you in the next song. He plays on the edge . . no, strike that--he creates genius guitar solos while staring over the edge and laughing maniacally.
-- Anders Beck, Greensky Bluegrass
Larry is a unique artist in that he never settled as just being a guitar wizard, as so many young virtuosos do, but instead, he created his musical identity through his own personal vision.
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine released their "Doc Fest" CD in April 2002, a tribute to guitar legend Doc Watson, including a Larry Keel duet with cellistRushad Eggleston, "Matty Groves".
In Fall of 2003 Flatpicking Guitar Magazine released "Hot and Spicy" CD, a guitar compilation project including a duet performance by Wyatt Rice and Larry Keel.
In 2004 Keel and wife Jenny were the subject of a video entitled Larry Keel: Beautiful Thing documents a year in their touring life (2002).
Keel appeared on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine May/June 2004 issue (with a 5-page feature article).
Film director Ryan Gielan was invited to show his full-length film Larry Keel: Beautiful Thing as a featured performance at the 2004 MerleFest, the first time the memorial festival had ever before used film as a performance medium.
In 2009, Keel debuted in his first acting role in independent film, John Lee: The Man They Could Not Hang, playing a jail warden in late 19th century England. His music was also featured on the soundtrack.
Thief, the second album Larry and Jenny Keel released with Keller Williams, debuted at #28 on Billboard'sHeatseeker Albums chart and at #1 on Billboard's Bluegrass Albums chart, where it remained for several weeks in a row in 2010.
In 2011, Will Lee's tune "Sound Check", performed by Larry Keel Experience, was featured on Confluence Films movie Connect.
In 2013, Keel's tune "Fishin' Reel" was featured as soundtrack to the Alaskan pike-fishing segment in Confluence Films movie Waypoints.
Keel is married to his bassist, Jennifer "Jenny" (née Newmark) Keel. He has a passion for fishing and has developed a number of related enterprises, including a website dedicated to sport fishing and bluegrass called Fishinandpickin.com and retreat workshops that combine these two interests. Says Keel of his twin passions, "there's a common thread that brings together a wonderful network of like-minded folks all across the world who seek out the deep qualities that characterize both fishing and playing or listening to music. It's a mystical connection, one that brings a lot of joy and satisfaction to a world overwhelmed with so much artificiality and staleness."