In Session: Tom Keller of Keller Guitar Studio

ARGYLE – The music industry is a vast business with many nooks and crannies. Though it’s always been imperative for artists navigating the industry to find what avenues work for them, the need to diversify within the business is at an all-time high, especially since the onslaught of COVID. Diversification is the name of the game for local musician, Tom Keller, owner and operator of Keller Guitar Studio. Taking on a variety of tasks involved with general music, lessons, performance coaching, and more, Keller has found a place to really delve into these aspects. Not only that, but he’ll be spearheading a new initiative at his studio to gather like-minded individuals in the area to discuss the business and provide an environment for mutual growth.

I had the chance to sit down with this artist. What follows is our conversation.

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Lucas Garrett: Thank you for sitting down today to talk about what you have going on. I’ve known you for a few years but we’ve never had a chance to chat. How are you doing? What’s up?

Tom Keller: Doing pretty well. Keeping busy between working things out with my guitar studio here, and keeping the day job going. Finding a good balance between the studio and family and everything. It’s been busy but it’s been productive. Things are looking up. How are you?

LG: I’m good, man. So, you’re talking about a studio? Tell us a little more about that.

TK: What Keller Guitar Studio is – it finally came to fruition in 2018, though I’d been teaching privately for about 25 years…been bouncing around a lot from having lived down in New York, then living in Albany and moving back up to Washington County. I never had a permanent spot to work. I’m very fortunate this location in South Argyle has come to fruition.

LG: What do you do at the studio?

TK: I teach guitar lessons, one-on-one. I also do basic guitar setups, basic repairs, and I coach general music lessons such as: voice; basic piano; performance coaching – which I did a lot of when I worked at Greenwich Youth Center a few years back; and a little vocal coaching. That’s what’s happening, now. About last week, a revelation came to me that here in South Argyle there really isn’t a central location for like-minded musical artists and people of such to meet. I figured, “You know what? I have the space here. I can do it.” It’s been a blessing. I’ve been referring to it as a forum; it’s a broader title for what I want to do here.

LG: You’re certainly handling a lot over at the studio. What are some of your musical influences?

TK: That’s a deep subject unto itself. Thank you for asking that. I grew up in a very artistic household; both my parents were artists. My father was a painter and my mother did other various things: weaving, book making, and things of the sort. I grew up with NPR going on in the household all the time. It was between NPR and a lot of early 50s and 60s folk music. My parents had lots of stories about living in Saratoga in the early 1960s; they were friends with Lena (Spencer) for a while.

LG: Oh, nice.

TK: I grew up hearing a lot of stories about that. There was a combination of that culture, those kinds of people coming in and out of my house, along with growing up on classical music. I started studying classical guitar at the age of 7. As far as my influences, I’ve got so many. Early rock, the Beatles, the Stones, early blues… When I got into my teen years, I got a lot into the progressive English stuff like Jethro Tull and Yes. Guitar wise, my big influences improvisationally are Zappa, Jon McLaughlin, and a lot of jazz – I’m a big Miles (Davis) guy. So, that’s where it took me. Then, I went to Purchase for it and studied with Bill Anderson, David Starobin, Ray DesRoches, and Anthony Newman. Incredible people; I’ve been very fortunate that way.

LG: It really sounds like you know your way around the guitar. Going forward with the forum and Keller Guitar Studio, what would you personally like to see happen?

TK: Right now, it’s in a breaking egg shell phase in the moment. I just have the Facebook page up, and I’m raising awareness. The idea is to have a once-a-month gathering at the studio, probably a Saturday evening. It’ll be a coffeehouse style – coffee, refreshments, whatever. Bring your own refreshments, just be realistic about it. If you’ve written a new tune and you want to try it out, get some input on it, there’s that. If you want to take up a discussion on the current situation of the recording industry, or similar things of the sort… Recently, I posted T-Bone Burnett and what he’s doing with vinyl. I really want to engage people and have a once-a-month night here, open to all levels; beginners to professionals. I’m looking forward to where that takes us.

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LG: You mention the recording industry, let’s talk a bit about that aspect. What COVID did, in my opinion, is really seen in live performances. Most of the musicians I know made their money playing out, and performing. With the majority of streaming platforms taking everything from artists, it really makes artists have to shift their game plan.

TK: The live performance is difficult, yes. As you and I have probably both noticed this past year with COVID restrictions being lifted, everybody’s out there now. There’s more involved with the weeding out process. Everyone owes it to themselves now more than ever to uphold a level of quality to themselves and their craft.

LG: It’s important to find other methods of going forward in the industry. Like you with your studio. I’ve had to reinvent how I go about navigating the music industry, and it sounds like you are, too. It’s necessary in this work to be able to adapt, you know?

TK: Absolutely. My strategy has had to completely change; it’s completely different than what it was thirty years ago.

LG: All-in-all, though, there are great things happening in the area. Some venues are really taking care of their artists, and I’m very thankful for that.

TK: So am I!

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

TK: The first meeting at Keller Guitar Studio will be taking place at the end of this month, at a date yet to be determined.

LG: Ok, well thank you again for your time!

TK: Thank you. Take it easy, Lucas.

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