(Big Legal Mess)
Imagine that Buddy Holly didn't die in a plane crash in Iowa, but instead landed safely in Memphis where he spent the next few decades immersing himself in all kinds of music from rock to soul to blues to punk. Then, after all those years, he decided to release an album filled with those influences. That's a pretty simple way to sum up John Paul Keith's latest album The Man That Time Forgot.
John Paul Keith's travels haven't been from Iowa to Memphis, but they did ultimately lead him to the Bluff City. Keith was the original co-leader of Knoxville's V-Roys alongside Scott Miller back when they were known as the Viceroys. The band had artistic disagreements which led Keith to leave before that band released its first Steve Earle-produced album. Keith began moving west from Knoxville landing in Nashville, which included a short stint in Ryan Adams' band, and then Memphis where he now lives and records.
Although Keith originally intended to give up his music career when he moved to Memphis, he got a gig just to pay some bills on Beale Street because he needed the money and ended up finding a home:
I had been real snobby about [the idea of playing on Beale Street for tourists], but I went and I had a blast and I learned a lot.... In Memphis, you look out and see people dancing. In Nashville, you look out and see people with their arms folded. In Nashville, I figured out that you’re mostly playing for other musicians and they’re only there because they don’t want to miss something.... Our whole goal is to have fun.
Keith and his music are a welcome throwback in the same way that Tom Petty was when he first debuted in the mid to late 70s. Petty was raised on Elvis and early rock and roll before absorbing the Beatles, the Byrds, and all the other 60s music. His first album of stripped-down rock and roll was received as new wave or punk for its simplicity, but it was merely the result of an artist with the right kind of influences. Keith's music shares this same kind of spirit.
Echoes of Buddy Holly can be found in some tracks ("Never Could Say No" "Songs For Sale" "Bad Luck Baby") while Sun-styled rockabilly bristles through others ("You Devil You" "Dry County"). The influences don't stop there. "Anyone Can Do It" mirrors the energy of "I Fought The Law". "Afraid To Look" sounds like something the Animals could have cut. Even polished pop ("Somebody Ought To Write A Song About You") and honky tonk country ("The Last Last Call") get a nod. With eleven of the twelve album tracks clocking in a 3 minutes or less, you understand that Keith knows his rock and roll in the most classic sense.
Considering how close Keith came to giving up on music altogether, The Man That Time Forgot is a blessing. He might not end up having the impact of either Buddy Holly or Tom Petty, but John Paul Keith keeps their legacy alive for another generation.
Young, up and coming rockers can take a lesson from John Paul Keith.
- Jim Markel
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