From YouTube star to international success story, Andy McKee has got it all – the technique, the Greenfield guitar, and what he says counts the most: the feeling. We welcome a real guitar master to talk about the albums that have shaped his sound.
In the 1980s, fingerstyle guitarists like Michael Hedges and Preston Reed pioneered an acoustic guitar style based on an alternate-tuned, percussion-heavy, new age–tinged sound. Kaki King went on to develop it with her 2002 debut, Everybody Loves You. You’ll hear some people call the movement “progressive acoustic guitar” while others may call it “modern fingerstyle”.
Jon Gomm, one of its latest (and most popular) exponents, has even heard it referred to as “banging”, due to its practitioners’ tendency to rap, slap and knock their hands against the body of an acoustic guitar for percussive effect. Whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that this genre of acoustic guitar–based music is experiencing a resurgence. In 2006, an unassuming acoustic guitar teacher from Topeka, Kansas, called Andy McKee uploaded a handful of videos of himself playing some original and incredibly complex instrumental acoustic guitar compositions to YouTube – and his life changed. One video in particular, ‘Drifting’ became one of YouTube’s first viral sensations. This is likely because it was both melodically engaging and aesthetically stunning and it subsequently racked up millions of views on the then-new site.
McKee hasn’t just sat on this online success, though. Knowing that you can disappear on the Internet as quickly as you appeared, he’s used his online stardom to build up a monumental worldwide following, and plays over 250 gigs a year. Andy has since become the figurehead of this style of guitar playing, and a whole host of talented guitarists have followed in his wake. Here, he tells us about the albums that changed him forever.
Michael Hedges – Aerial Boundaries
I love this album for its creativity and brilliance. Every composition is full of so much imagination – it’s staggering. This album changed everything about what the perceived possibilities of the acoustic guitar were. All fingerstyle acoustic guitarists owe such a debt to Michael Hedges. I actually met fellow fingerstylist Jon Gomm through a mutual love of Michael Hedges. We both used to frequent a page called rootwitch.com, which was a site dedicated to Michael. There was a very active forum there and we used to post tunes and talk about the profundities of Michael’s work. We finally met in person at the City Varieties in Leeds when I opened for Tommy Emmanuel in 2007.
Preston Reed – Metal
This record was my gateway into the world of modern acoustic guitar music. I love every last track on Metal. It’s secured a special place in my life and I get very nostalgic when I listen. Preston is the king of percussive guitar playing! Seeing Preston Reed do a guitar clinic made me want to incorporate percussive techniques into my playing. My cousin took me to go see him in Topeka, Kansas. He was sponsoring Washburn guitars at the time and he was brought in by a local music store that sold them. It was like a fire was ignited after watching him do his thing.
Don Ross – Passion Session
This is another album that is just perfect to me. Passion Session is perhaps the best recording of an acoustic guitar out there – and every track is so good! When I first heard ‘Klimbim’, I knew Don would be a profound influence on me within moments. In fact, there are some great instructional videos and books out there. A couple that I picked up were all of the artists I’ve mentioned here: Preston Reed’s instructional video The Guitar of Preston Reed, Don Ross’ The Answer Video, and Michael Hedges’ Rhythm, Sonority, and Silence.