The list of people local bass player and sound engineer Glenn Keefe has played or worked with since making music a career is a who’s who of the Americana and bluegrass world. It’s an enviable list, likely to arouse a “who knew?” type of gesture that encourages internet digging.
Locally, that list includes The Blue Moon Ramblers and Lisa Blue Trio, Tim Sullivan, the late Greg Ryder and the short-lived Brown Brothers. Digging deeper into Keefe’s past, when he was a sound engineer for Colorado Concert Sound, reveals time spent traveling the Front Range working with Greg Allman, Spyro Gyra or The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
The list goes on, which also includes working for Presidential Christmas shows with Bob Hope and Andy Williams. He did sound for the early days of the nationally syndicated radio program eTown, and founded The Left Hand String Band, early purveyors of the progressive bluegrass Colorado has come to be known for. They eventually morphed into beloved Leftover Salmon, of which he too was a founding member.
Currently, Keefe is the sound engineer for The Wild Horse Saloon while also holding down the low end for The Blue Moon Ramblers and Lisa Blue. His venture into bluegrass is a well-worn and familiar path, one that has been taken by local colleagues and written about in this column before.
“My sister came home with ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken,’ and I started listening to that, and I fell in love,” Keefe said. “This was in high school, when I was already playing mandolin. So I picked up the banjo, and from that point on, bluegrass was the kind of music I loved. And then I got involved with bands out in Colorado, that’s when I fell in love with the people in bluegrass.”
Keefe’s instrument progression went from mandolin and banjo to guitar and finally bass, an instrument he had just picked up when he was hired to play a New Year’s Eve show with Boulder’s Chutney Brothers. He likes being in the background, serving as an anchor for the music, which also moves into being that anchor for the business side of music.
“The bottom end is great, it’s a lot of fun. I’m not exactly a front person by any means, but I do a lot of stuff in the background. Organizing the songs, how they’re going to be played out, the progressions. And I do a lot of the business end of things also. I try to steer things to the right places,” he said. “Because music – half of it’s playing, and the other half is the actual business end of things. Most people don’t want to deal with that, most musicians don’t, they just want to come in and play and go home. So that’s where I fit in.”
Talking to Keefe is a lesson in the history of the internationally respected bluegrass scene of Colorado. There’s the studio and rehearsal space he owned and operated outside Boulder, what he jokingly referred to as a “musicians halfway house” where “everyone hung out and rehearsed.” There’s the forming of Left Hand String Band and Leftover Salmon, whose early years and their ties to Durango included personal hilarity and top notch musical exploration. He ran with Boulder’s Hot Rize, a band that “taught him the ropes.” There was also The Wingnutz, which included Benny “Burle” Galloway and local musician Bruce Allsopp.
When he moved to Durango in 2000, he picked up where he left off in Boulder, continuing with his obsession of sound engineering while playing out. Durango ventures have included mentoring the award-winning Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, doing sound for local live shows, playing bass for various bands around the region, along with playing at the Cowboy Gathering and the Bluegrass Meltdown. There are enough anecdotes and tales from Colorado’s roots music scene from the last 40 years to fill a book, which he’s writing.
“I just do anything I can in the local entertainment business,” Keefe said. “Because I love it.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.