When John Paul Keith tours, count on a no-frills show that’s reminiscent of a much earlier time in music. However, Keith does not see himself as some nostalgia act.
“I’m not trying to be retro,” Keith said. “If it sounds like the last 30 years hasn’t happened in my music, it’s because to me, they haven’t. I just don’t listen to current music very much.”
Since Keith is only in his thirties, much of the music he loves was made before he was born. Yet, these influences, which include garage rock, rockabilly, ‘60s soul and Tex-Mex, are the things that drive him most when he writes songs.
“[My music is] written in the same structure that most songs were written with, up until the early 1970s. Most of the music that comes out now, in my opinion, has a flawed structure compared to the older stuff.”
Even though Keith has a growing fan base, he doesn’t compose his music with high-tech gizmos, and can’t quite understand musicians who compose music on a computer.
“Unless you can get it across with a voice and guitar or a piano, you don’t really have a song,” Keith said. “You may have a piece of music that’s interesting, but that’s not a song.”
Once Keith is done writing a song, he brings the band in to figure out the best approach for recording the track and playing it live. That way, both the record and the live shows have the same quality.
“We get the arrangements down before we get to the studio so we can just play it live--just like we would at a show,” Keith said. “We may do an occasional vocal over dub, but for the most part it’s live.”
This Memphis-based musician grew up outside of Knoxville, Tenn. On his tenth birthday, his dad, who was a truck driver, gave him an acoustic guitar and some Chuck Berry and B.B. King records.
A few years later, Keith helped start a band called The V-Roys, which became popular around Knoxville. Even though the band was lucky enough to get a recording contract and release two albums, Keith wanted out.
“I was about 20 when I quit that band. At that age, you don’t think you can fail at anything. You’re pretty fearless. I decided that I wanted to try Nashville,” he said.
Within a few years, he had a hot new band that got attention in Nashville and scored a major label contract. However, the deal went sour after they recorded an entire album that never even got released.
By 2005, at the age of 29, Keith swore off the music business and left Nashville for Memphis. Though he tried to get into a new line of work, Keith found himself once again drawn to music.
“Memphis really reawakened my love of music,” Keith said. “The musicians here were the most open-minded, creative people I had ever met. That spirit got me going again.”
Now, after two solo releases, “Spills & Thrills” (2009) and “The Man that Time Forgot” (2011), Keith finds that he is enjoying music more than ever and tries to share that with every audience.
“We’re not afraid to swing, we’re not afraid to play a shuffle, or a boogie. We want to entertain people, but we don’t have any gimmicks. There’s no B.S. to what we do.”
John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives play at Chelsea’s Cafe (2857 Perkins Rd.) on Aug. 25.
For more information on John Paul Keith, go to http://www.myspace.com/johnpaulkeith.