Acoustic Fingerstylists Andy McKee, Jon Gomm and Daryl Kellie Are Blazing a Daring Style of Percussive, Alternate-Tuned Shred
One of them, “Drifting,” went viral after being featured on YouTube’s homepage, and McKee became an online phenomenon. Soon, he was accepting offers to tour with Tommy Emmanuel and record with Josh Groban.
“I went from teaching guitar in Kansas to playing guitar all over the planet,” he says. “Which is what I always wanted to do.”
Amazingly, “Drifting” is the first song McKee ever wrote in the style with which he has become so closely associated. He composed it when he was 18, just two years after hearing the percussive-heavy instrumental acoustic guitar work of Preston Reed.
“When I was 16, my cousin took me to see Preston at a guitar workshop here in Kansas,” he recalls. “At the time, I was playing electric guitar and was way into Pantera and Dream Theater and Iron Maiden. Then I saw Preston and he was doing all these amazing things with just one acoustic. It blew my mind. I wanted to figure out how he was able to cover melodic, harmonic and rhythmic ideas all at once.”
McKee also cites fingerstylists like Don Ross, Billy McLaughlin and Michael Hedges as primary influences. Of all his acoustic contemporaries, McKee’s style most closely mirrors that of Hedges, in both his use of the guitar’s body to add percussive elements and his tendency to create lush, harmonically rich soundscapes using altered tunings and droning open strings. On occasion, he plays a double-neck harp guitar, an instrument popularized by, and closely associated with, Hedges.
Since the success of “Drifting,” McKee has become a force in the acoustic world. A few years back he created a tour called Guitar Masters, a sort of G3 for the acoustic set. He also performs upward of 100 dates each year on his own, and sometimes in front of enormous audiences, such as when John Petrucci invited him to open some arena gigs for Dream Theater in the U.S., Mexico and the Far East.
Equally thrilling, and even more unexpected, in 2012 McKee received an offer to join Prince for a series of shows in Australia.
“He watched some of my videos, and one in particular, ‘Rylynn,’ [See the video above] really stood out to him,” McKee says. “He invited me to Minneapolis to jam with him and his band, and from there he brought me out on tour. And it was amazing. I would start the shows with an acoustic arrangement of ‘Purple Rain,’ and during Prince’s set I’d sit in with him and his band and we’d do a medley of his songs.”
As for his own music, McKee has released a series of well-received albums, including his most recent, 2010’s Joyride. He also continues to seek out new avenues to explore with his own music.
To that end, his new Razor & Tie–issued EP, Mythmaker, features not only his distinct acoustic guitar playing but also a solo piano piece and an electric guitar–and-synth composition. “I’m trying some different things out and letting inspiration take me wherever it does,” McKee says. “I don’t feel like I have to write the next amazing acoustic-guitar song necessarily—I just want to write the next amazing piece of music.”
Andy McKee Axology
GUITARS Michael Greenfield G4.2 (fanned fret), Michael Greenfield G2B and G4B.2 (fanned fret) baritone, Michael Greenfield HG1.2 harp guitar
PICKUPS K&K Pure Mini
CAPOS Shubb S1 and S5 Deluxe (banjo)
PREAMP D-TAR Solstice