When you think of soul, blues, and R&B, what places come to mind? Memphis? Chicago? New Orleans? How about Vermont? No? Well Dave Keller is trying to change that.
Currently based in Montpelier, VT, Keller leads a blues trio and a six-piece soul band, as well as performing solo. He has paid his dues the old fashioned way -- spending over 1,000 nights singing and playing his heart out. At sweaty, dirt road bars. At swanky ski saloons. At huge summer festivals. At jam-packed dance clubs, city halls, college theaters, prison gymnasiums, and blues cruises. You name it. Chances are Keller has played there. And chances are those audiences still remember dancing like crazy to his deep soul singing, his gritty guitar licks, and his super-tight, super-funky band.
When Keller moved to the Green Mountain state in 1993, he had already spent many years learning his trade. Growing up in Worcester, MA, he picked up guitar in his teens, before falling for the blues and starting his own band in 1988, covering songs by B.B. King, Otis Rush, and the Neville Brothers. Soon after, Keller moved to Boston. Weekend nights found him backing up Reggie Taylor, an older blues/R&B musician who himself had backed up many a blues legend. Weekdays Keller hung out with acoustic blues master Paul Rishell, learning the roots of the blues. Weekend afternoons Keller put his skills to use, sitting in at blues jams throughout the city.
Eventually Keller tired of city life and moved to rural Washington state. There he decided to take up singing and songwriting. With few other blues musicians around, he immersed himself in homemade tapes of Ray Charles, Son House, and gospel quartets from the forties and fifties.
By 1993, when Keller moved to Vermont, his singing and playing had taken on a new depth. He began playing solo shows with his National steel guitar, garnered a loyal following, and released a cassette (Deep Down in My Soul) on his own label.
In 1996, he formed an electric trio to play clubs and larger venues, and in 1998 the band released its all-original debut CD, Faith. The CD sold very well locally (over 1,000 copies), and earned excellent reviews in the three major U.S. blues magazines. Doing all the promotion and distribution himself, Keller found that radio stations across the U.S., Europe, and even Australia were excited to play it. Of special note, deep soul legend Mighty Sam McClain liked the CD so much that he took Keller on as a protégé, telling the world, "Y'all check him out! He's for REAL!".
In November 2001, Keller released his second CD, Down at the Aloha, full of old school soul, horn-driven R&B, and slinky funk. Reviews were excellent, with Burlington, VT's arts paper, Seven Days, calling Keller, "a born storyteller," comparing his singing to that of Stevie Wonder, and calling the CD, "as good as it gets on the local music scene." Seven Days even picked it as one of the top 12 CDs produced in VT in 2001.
Since then, Keller has kept up a heavy performance schedule, backing up soul greats such as Fontella Bass ("Rescue Me") and Robert Ward ("Papa Was a Rolling Stone"), as well as founding his own 6-piece soul band with a repertoire featuring originals and soul classics.
His new CD, Play for Love, released November 2007, shows his growth as a songwriter, singer and musician. Covering a range of topics, both personal and political, Keller has released his most personal recording yet. The CD's thirteen songs are inspired by blues and soul, but don't fit easily into either category. The band on the CD includes Jan Schultz (Fender bass) and Brett Hoffman (drums) from Keller's blues trio, as well as Hammond organ whiz Ira Friedman. Early press has been quite good, with The Montpelier Bridge noting Keller's "inspired lyrics", "masterful guitar work", and "the jewel...his voice."