Andy McKee ‘drifting’ along
Guitar virtuoso brings his eclectic style to the MACC
A guitar phenomenon, Andy McKee burst on the world stage with a video for his instrumental “Drifting,” which has racked up more than 56 million YouTube views. For a time, three of McKee’s videos were concurrently the three most watched on YouTube.
The song, which he composed at age 18, has become so ubiquitous in guitar culture that his complex approach is referred to as the “Drifting guitar style.”
Influenced by guitarists like Michael Hedges, Preston Reed and Don Ross, McKee is able to magically transform the steel string guitar to sound like an orchestra via his use of various tunings, fret board tapping, and a signature two-handed technique.
“I didn’t go out so much as a teen. I stayed in quite a bit for many hours trying to develop ideas,” McKee says. “But it was always fun for me, the idea of trying to do this on the guitar and emulate some of my favorite guys and eventually write my own music. I didn’t feel like I was deprived.”
“McKee is an artist who has to be seen to be believed,” praised a UK Telegraph review. “The sheer range of techniques involving complex tappings and hand movements, harmonics and altered tunings, has catapulted him to the forefront of what is loosely termed the ‘fingerstyle’ method of guitar playing.”
And Guitar World raved: “His densely melodic and percussive style is mesmerizing to say the least.”
Anyone who loves brilliant guitar playing should not miss his show on Friday in the McCoy Studio Theater.
McKee’s fans include Prince who discovered one of his online videos. Prince was so impressed he invited the guitarist to join him on his 2012 tour of Australia. Right until close to his death, Prince had talked about recording an acoustic album with McKee.
“He was interested in collaborating,” McKee marvels. “I went to Paisley Park and we worked up a medley. It was a trip. I never could have imagined it in a million years. After the whole YouTube thing that was just another level.
“I didn’t discover how it all came about until we were in the middle of the tour. There was a party in his hotel room in Sydney, and about two in the morning he asked me to play guitar for everybody. One of my tunes is called ‘Rylynn,’ and after I finished playing, he said, ‘that’s the one I saw on YouTube and it made me want to get hold of you.’ “
During the tour, McKee would open up the show playing “Purple Rain” on solo guitar and then the band would join in.
“I’m going to put my acoustic version on my next album,” he says.
When he’s not dazzling audiences with his extraordinary acoustic guitar artistry, McKee sometimes switches to an imposing harp guitar. Based on a hundred-year-old design, the massive instrument utilizes six extra strings for a deeper tone. A YouTube video of this virtuoso playing it has garnered a not so shabby 10 million views.
“I began playing the harp guitar about 15 years ago,” McKee explains. “It’s a pretty odd instrument, like a guitar, but with six extra sub-bass strings. The harp strings run over the top of a sort of appendage that’s attached to the upper part of the guitar. It’s a pleasure to play since you can accompany your guitar playing with these extra low strings to get a very full, rich sound.”
In concert McKee’s repertoire includes both his original compositions and his unique arrangements of covers which range from Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and Prince’s “Purple Rain,” to Toto’s “Africa” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
“I got into music when I was young in the ’80s, so I get nostalgic about a lot of ’80s music,” he says. “It’s mostly just if there’s a good melody and something connects with me. It’s a fun challenge to get a piece of music on the guitar.”
HAPA’s Barry Flanagan has a new music home on Maui at Nalu’s South Shore Grill. He’s been performing at the Kihei restaurant on Saturday nights joined by Eric Gilliom, and other guests.
“I’m off for a year from touring,” Flanagan explains. “After 23 years of 60 to 90 concerts out of state, my long tour years are fading. With the death of the CD it’s been intense with 19-hour days and four hours sleep making up the money, so I want to stay home more now. I’m excited about it.”
The two musicians first began combining talents around 12 years ago to packed audiences at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea, enthralling residents and visitors with a unique dinner show that drew from their extensive musical histories.
“We’re circling back to what we started,” says Gilliom. “A lot has happened since then. Barry was touring with HAPA, and about a year and half ago I started a solo career, which has been liberating. Playing 15-to-18 hours of gigs a week has made me a better guitar player.”
Gilliom’s solo gigs have included weekly dates at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and Fleetwood’s on Front St., and he plays with Vince Esquire as The Maui Boys at Fleetwood’s.
A versatile artist whose discography includes the memorable CDs “Into the Mystic” and “Like Chow Fun,” Gilliom has creatively blossomed over the years as a member of Mick Fleetwood’s Island Rumours Band and Willie K’s partner in the Barefoot Natives.
A remarkable guitarist and acclaimed vocalist and composer, Flanagan made his HAPA debut with Keli’i Kaneali’i in Kaanapali in 1983. Since then he’s released a series of superb HAPA recordings, and been honored with a number of Na Hoku awards.
“Playing with Barry is about as exhilarating as music gets,” says Gilliom. “These shows will be a wide range of music from both of our catalogues as well as our favorite covers.”
The covers may include Prince’s “Purple Rain,” where Flanagan takes off on guitar.
“In all the years I’ve played with Barry I had never seen anything like that guitar solo,” says Gilliom about one of their shows. “It’s a moment that will go down in history in my career.”
“Nalu’s is a great intimate music room, with one of my favorite vibes of all the places I have ever played on Maui,” says Flanagan, who will also play there on Tuesday evenings. “And I love the food.”
Full of praise for his duet partner, Flanagan enthuses: “I’ve played with a lot of rhythm players, but this is the best rhythm playing, and that’s why I’m so excited. Eric’s guitar playing is very funky and contemporary, which brings out all my different languages on my acoustic guitar.”
“It’s got a really fresh jam-like quality,” adds Gilliom. “The vocabulary is pretty endless. Creatively and musically I can contribute a lot more than I ever have been able to in the past playing with Barry. I’m excited to be on that level.”
* Flanagan and Gilliom will perform a free show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Nalu’s South Shore Grill. Starting July 22 they will perform a dinner show at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Dinner and music is $50. Flanagan also plays at 8 p.m. Tuesdays with no admission charge. Call 891-8650 for details and reservations.
The 10th annual Seed-to-Cup Coffee Festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 22 at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu. There will be live music with an impressive lineup which includes Sonny Lim, The Hula Honeys, Eric Gilliom, Benny Uyetake, Laki Pomaikai Kaahumanu, Rock Hendricks, Andrew Molina, Jay Molina, and the Zenshin Daiko Drummers. Admission is free.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real have been on the road playing a few shows opening for Sheryl Crow. They also just backed Neil Young on an anthemic new song and video, “Children of Destiny.” The band will release a new self-titled album on Aug. 25. Guests include Lady Gaga, who contributes backing vocals to a couple of songs, including the soulful “Find Yourself.”
“We’re thrilled to finally share this new music with the world,” Nelson told Rolling Stone.
And before heading to off for a UK tour, part-time Maui resident Alice Cooper raved about Makena in a Guardian web chat with fans.
“You can play in your bathing suit,” he said. “It’s as close to playing in paradise as you can ever imagine.”
Cooper will release a new album, “Paranormal,” in late July, with guests including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, U2’s drummer Larry Mullen Jr., and Deep Purple’s Roger Glover.