Q&A with Larry and Jenny Keel of Larry Keel Acoustic Power Trio


Husband and wife Larry and Jenny Keel of the Larry Keel Acoustic Power Trio are on the road to Annapolis.  Along the way, they took some time to answer a few questions in preparation for their upcoming show this Thursday night (February 27th) at Rams Head On Stage.  They’ll be joined by Will Lee on banjo to complete their Power Trio.  Tickets are still available at www.ramsheadonstage.com.  (Interview by Rams Head On Stage guest blogger Matt Ellis).

ME:  I find it amazing that Larry has been playing guitar since he was seven years old.  Larry – when you first started playing, did you always think you were going to make a living performing music, and what have been the best surprises and/or memories from your career so far?

LK:  I guess from that young age, I just burned inside with music.  I just always knew I wanted to play and somehow make that the focus of my life.  I’ve always been pretty determined to make it my career.  The part that stuns me the most is all the opportunities I’ve had, and continue to have, to share the stage with my musical heroes.  It’s an unbelievable feeling.

ME:  A few rapid fire questions – When did you and Jenny meet, and how did you meet?  Was it a mutual love of music that brought you together?  When did you first start playing together?  Jenny – what groups did you play with before teaming up with Larry, and what’s your musical background (i.e. when did you start playing, what instruments, etc.)?  

LK:  Jenny was always a huge supporter of the live music scene in our area of Virginia; all kinds of music, and eventually, way into Old Time and Bluegrass.  She was coming to see one of her favorite local Bluegrass heroes (Gary Ruley) play at a little tavern in our town when I got up on stage with Gary to pick a tune. I had known him a long time too, and somehow Jenny and I never crossed paths at all those jams and festivals.  We met that night, and she’ll tell you the rest!

JK:  I saw Larry (and Will Lee was there that night too, playing banjo on stage with my friend Gary Ruley) play the guitar on a few tunes, and I was blown away.  When he walked off stage and passed me in the crowd, I HAD to compliment him and tell him, “That was the best E.M.D. I’ve ever heard!” (a David Grisman tune that stands for “Eat My Dust“), and it was!  So, I admit that I totally flirted with him, found out where he and his buddies were going to be pickin’ after the show that night, went and heard them play more, etc.  You know how it goes!  We traded phone numbers…it sure seemed like love at first sight, and still going strong after 20 years this March.

I never played a stringed instrument before I met Larry.  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).  Getting together with Larry and his buddies made my progress in learning the bass fly along quickly.  They were so encouraging and supportive…awesome guys!

ME:  Larry – you seem to be an avid fisherman, you’ve supported salmon habitat protection, performed music for a pike-fishing movie, and you’ve begun setting up Fishin’ and Pickin’ shows around the country (a great idea by the way).  Have you always been a supporter of habitat/environmental preservation and do you think growing up in Virginia had anything to do with that?

LK:  I love the great state of Virginia for its natural beauty and the spiritual feeling this land gives me.  I feel that way about all the natural world, really.  Anywhere I go, I connect to the land, the water, the air.  Protecting and caring for the land is crucial.  Combining my music career with my love for fishing and being outdoors is just a natural connection that has mutual benefits:  the natural world inspires my music and feeds my life.  I want to help take care of the natural world so it thrives and continues to do its thing. 

ME:  I’m very jealous of Larry’s beard.  Unfortunately, I’m genetically predisposed to “patchiness” and will never be able to attain the same facial follicular fortitude.  The “hulihee” (yes, I actually had to Google Civil War-era facial hair styles to determine the true name) has definitely become your trademark look.  Why that particular style?  And Jenny – what do you think of the chops?

LK:  I had a full beard when I was 15.  Of course, that helped mine, and my friends’, cause when it came to trying to buy beer.  Since it grows fast, I can change it up without worrying about not liking it.  I like changing things up every now and then.

JK:  I’ve seen Larry with so many facial hair styles (and a few wild head hair styles) at this point in things. He’s a man of a million looks, and he’s got that kind of face that seems to make each one of them work for him.  I love it each time – baby face smooth, or big, silky fur face.  Fun with facial hair!

ME:  You played with Mark Vann early on before he departed for Leftover Salmon.  Since then, you’ve met and played with some of the most talented bluegrass and folk musicians in the world.  Larry – How did you manage to meet and collaborate with so many great artists over the years?  And can you describe what it’s been like to play an integral role in this new resurgence of progressive bluegrass artists over the last two decades?

LK:  I met Mark Vann up in Fauquier County, VA, where I’m from, when he was living there and running his own retaining wall building business and giving banjo lessons on the side.  My friend was getting banjo lessons from him, and brought me over to his house to watch the lesson and sit in on some tunes.

Mark and I hit it off, started a band, and he hired me to work with him and his wife in his wall building company.  From there, once he moved to Colorado to form Leftover Salmon, I would go on to meet tons of pickers through them and through all my own travels and band formats I played in.  I’m always ready to sit in on a jam, meet new musicians, play with all kinds of folks…making myself available to play like that, and working hard to align myself with excellent players and like-minded people has helped me connect with so many great artists from all genres of music.  It’s a never-ending, wonderful pursuit.  I especially love to see all this young talent promoting and preserving the music of our Bluegrass heritage, so that the youth of today are always exposed to it and interested in it.

ME:  Are you working on any new albums this year – either with friends, family, or on your own?

LK:  Yes.  I am working on a project where I intend to release a new song and video every 45-60 days.  I’ve got tons of new material and fresh projects in the works. 

ME:  Why is the Larry Keel Acoustic Power Trio different from other bluegrass/folk bands today, and what would you tell the audience to expect this Thursday night?

LK:  This Trio is a VERY original project.  The three of us know each other like a precision clock, with a soul.  Expect a night of powerful and unique song-crafting, some rowdy stomping bluegrass, a full gamut of emotions and reactions to what we present to the audience.  Prepare for a journey into my world.

Here’s a look into Larry’s world…

– Matt Ellis

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