Andy McKee is living proof of the places that talent — and YouTube — can take you. Early in his career, the Kansas-based acoustic guitarist became a true internet sensation when three of his videos were concurrently the most-viewed videos on YouTube.
Since then, McKee has released several solo albums, recorded with Josh Groban and Lee Ritenour, and toured with Prince. His most recent solo release — 2016’s Live Book — includes songs recorded onstage at WorkPlay in 2015.
Known for his unique harp guitar and use of alternate tunings, McKee draws from influences as diverse at Michael Hedges, Metallica, and Eric Johnson. On Monday, February 13, McKee returns to WorkPlay for an 8 p.m. performance. Recently, he spoke by phone about his current and past projects.
Weld: Your recent press release states that you are attempting to stay home more than usual this year. How is that working out so far?
Andy McKee: So far it’s been pretty good. I’m probably just going to be going out once a month, over a week or something like that, so I can spend time with my wife and kids and finish up a new album.
Weld: Your recent live album — Live Book — was recorded at several venues, one being WorkPlay here in Birmingham. How did you select the album’s material from your overall catalog of songs?
McKee: I like to use different guitar tunings, so the way I structure my show is around what tunings are close together and the flow of energetic songs and mellow songs. So that all determines what I play in the show, and I came up with that before I did the recordings. I wanted to get some of the older tunes that people are big fans of, and maybe the first songs they ever heard me play, and a couple of new things that I’d never recorded before.
Weld: Had the idea of releasing a live album been in the works for some time or was this a spur-of-the-moment decision?
McKee: It was a little of both I guess. I wanted to have a live album at some point, but last year I decided to do a live album. I was going to go out and do these shows in the Southeast so we recorded it down there. But it was kind of last-minute where we said, “Let’s record these shows and see what we get.” So that’s how it came together. I recorded some of the songs a decade ago, and I play them differently live now, so I wanted to show how they’ve evolved a bit and try to capture the energy that happens in a live show.
Weld: You mentioned earlier that you are currently working on a new studio album. How far into the process are you at this point?
McKee: I’m still writing. I have so many ideas that need to be developed and turned into complete songs, so that’s what I’ll be doing mostly this year. I do have a few things that are done. About four years ago I was a guitarist in Prince’s band and we [toured] in Australia. To start the shows I did an acoustic cover of “Purple Rain” that he liked. I decided that maybe we’ll put that on an album this year since he passed away.
Weld: How did you and Prince meet?
McKee: He found me on YouTube and he just liked what I was doing on instrumental acoustic guitar, so he had his manager email mine and we got together at Paisley Park in Minneapolis. It was just a real trip. I never would have imagined in a million years that he’d ever know who I am or anything like that. It was definitely an honor to be recognized by someone like that.
He was a really talented guy — some people don’t realize what an accomplished musician he was. He played so many instruments, wrote all those tunes, and was a hell of an entertainer on stage. We talked about doing an acoustic album, and he contacted me over the years but it never really came together. But, like I said, it was a huge honor.
Weld: You record for Tommy Emmanuel’s label, CGP Sounds. How did that relationship begin?
McKee: I first ran into him about 17 years ago. He had just really started coming over to the States and playing concerts. He played at a bluegrass festival here in Kansas called the Walnut Valley Festival, and I thought he was unreal. Six or seven years later I got invited to open for him for two weeks in England. We went out together and just toured around England in a station wagon, and we’ve been friends ever since. I found myself needing new management last year. I had met Tommy’s manager before and I got a hold of him. So we’ve had a few opportunities since then to go out and perform together.
Andy McKee will perform at WorkPlay on Monday, February 13. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $20. For more information, visit workplay.com.