An up-and-coming player on the acoustic music scene since the 1990s, Larry Keel has mastered a number of acoustic music styles. Keel was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and grew up surrounded by traditional music and musicians. From a young age, he honed his skill as a guitarist with the guidance of his older brother and father. At the age of 18, he performed at Tokyo Disneyland for seven months, an experience he would later call "incredible." When Keel returned to the United States in the mid-'90s, he began traveling to festivals across the country. In 1994, a friend encouraged Keel to attend Telluride, an up-and-coming venue on the bluegrass scene. At the festival, Keel entered and won the guitar competition.
Keel formed the Larry Keel Experience in the mid-'90s, and over the next several years the group recorded a number of adventurous albums. In 1997, the band released Miles and Miles, an eclectic album that included everything from Duke Ellington's "Caravan" (with a 19-piece acoustic orchestra in tow), to the theme from Star Trek, to innovative originals like the title cut. The next album, The Sound, was recorded two years later, and included a more integrated sound and a greater number of original songs. Keel also revealed an affinity for long, intense solos, placing the acoustic-based Experience within the jam band tradition. The group followed with another album, simply titled The Larry Keel Experience. The album included an inspired acoustic take of Bob Marley's "Hammer," and a bizarre, upbeat take on John Hartford's "All Fall Down."
In 2002 Keel and the Experience joined with progressive bluegrass veteran Curtis Burch (from the earliest incarnation of the New Grass Revival) to record Larry Keel, Curtis Burch and the Experience. The recording was dedicated to the late John Hartford and sampled his early catalog while also revisiting "Pennies in My Pocket," a lively song recorded for the first New Grass Revival album in 1973. In 2003 The Larry Keel Experience released Journey, the band's fifth album, which even included electric guitar.
In 2005, Keel recorded with his new band, Natural Bridge, a four-piece unit with bassist Jenny Keel, mandolinist Mark Schimick, and banjoistAndy Thorn. Unlike the Experience, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge stuck closer to tradition, offering lively versions of "Weary Heart," "Groundhog," and "Gatherin Flowers." For longtime fans, the album cover, featuring Keel shorn of his trademark bushy beard, also proved quite a surprise. Keel simultaneously recorded a very straightforward album with his brother Gary Keel titled The Keel Brothers, Vol. 1 in 2005.
Keel and Company continue to keep an active touring schedule, most often on the East Coast, while also attending a number of festivals each year. In 2006, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge planned to be "ringing in the New Year" at the Grey Eagle Music Hall in Ashville, NC. As S. Remington noted, "In Western Carolina Larry has been elevated to icon status with those who appreciate good, solid, hand crafted music." With a strong set of albums and a busy road schedule, it's likely that Keel's reputation will quickly outgrow the region. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi