Wonder Women: Lynn Keller
Lynn Keller graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in Music. Lynn has toured extensively with Diana Ross, The Original Fifth Dimension, Michelle Shocked, Oleta Adams, Freda Payne, and as Musical Director/bassist for Rita Coolidge, Nell Carter & Simply the Best, and Jackie DeShannon. Lynn can be seen playing on Season 7 of American Idol and heard on the soundtrack for the movie Nine. Lynn has toured as bassist with the 1st National Touring Companies of Little Shop of Horrors, Sister Act, and School of Rock. In addition, she has been the bassist on three world premiere musicals: Mask (LA); Leap of Faith (LA, Broadway – Leap of Faith cast album), and also the musical event; Reunion ’69 & ‘85 in Denver, CO. She has played two holiday shows and the world premiere of “Road Trip” for the Transcendence Theatre Company. She is the yearly music director for the MovieGuide Awards in LA. She has her own signature bass line through MTD Basses. For more information see Lynnkeller.com and MTDbass.com.
Who were your influences?
Roscoe Beck, Will Lee, James Jamerson, Carol Kaye. Other players that always continue to inspire me are Leland Sklar & Brian Bromberg.
What are you woodshedding right now?
Teaching materials. Upcoming gig materials.
We usually hear about the downsides of being a female in the music industry. Let’s flip the script; do you see any benefits?
Really strong and versatile female players will always stand out, thus opening the door to many possibilities.
How are you handling working through the pandemic? How has technology helped (or hindered) you? Any tips to share?
I admit that I have enjoyed slowing down a bit. I got back into writing but also recorded a lot of tracks from home. I love recording this way. I recorded a ton of tracks in 2020 and it’s picking up again this year.
Any current projects that you can tell us about?
One of my main focuses is my Lynn Keller Signature 532 bass line through MTD Basses (MTDbass.com). We released this bass in 2017. It received a perfect review from Bass Player Magazine. Michael and Daniel Tobias (MTD) design and build basses that are complete works of art. My signature bass is a 32″ scale with a smaller neck width (16 1/2), smaller body and custom-wound Bartolini Electronics.
As I’m a petite person, I needed a bass that fit me and could be easily worn for long hours without causing neck and back pain. Often on smaller basses, the low B string does not sound good at all. The low end on my MTD 5 string, however, is focused, clean, crisp, and simply remarkable. I’ve used the basses on many recordings and engineers always comment about the sound quality on the basses. The basses are hand-made with your choice of woods. I’d love to be able to turn other female bassists on to these basses as we’ve only sold them to men until now.
Currently, we have a brand new line of my signature bass coming out this year. It’s a production bass designed as an entry-level bass, and like my original bass, it’s designed for a smaller statured player. Sonically they’re flexible tonally and fully stageworthy. Both basslines feature lighter weight and perfect balance points. Both basses are high-end instruments designed to make playing a little easier without losing any sound quality at all.
Gig-wise I’m at an interesting time in my life. I have done many of the gigs I had dreamed of doing. I’ve experienced touring with huge artists – I’ve played on television, I’ve music directed, I’ve toured 1st national broadway shows, and lived in New York opening a brand new Broadway show. I am choosing gigs that are good for my heart. Right now I am playing shows for the Transcendence Theatre Company in Sonoma, CA. I’ve been working with them for the past couple of years. They’re a wonderful, amazing company to play for with incredibly talented artists and challenging and inspiring music. I plan to continue writing and recording this year and would also love to find a new artist that I can work, tour, and share inspiration with!
Dream artist or band to collaborate with?
Shawn Colvin, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Ray LaMontagne… I love the earthiness of these artists and would love to play with them. They truly speak to my heart.
What would you want to change about the music industry?
I strongly dislike the sexualizing of women players. I find it demeaning and continues to perpetuate the stereotypes that women aren’t “real” players. I remember what we used to refer to as “cattle calls” back in the ’90s. An artist was looking for a female bassist, so we would wait in a huge line, many of the bass players dressed in a fairly sleazy way, waiting to get into the audition. That was never a way I presented myself and didn’t achieve this level in my career by selling myself that way. I remember being approached to audition for the Keenan Ivory Wayans show. I was ready to audition and received a call from the show asking me if I looked like a model, and if I didn’t, then they didn’t want me to waste their time. As a serious player, I found it all of this revolting honestly.
An early experience that shaped you as an artist now?
I was blessed to work with numerous seriously talented vocalists and fellow players at a young age. I learned to appreciate the richness of the voice and I learned how to be a good accompanist to the vocalist. I never played in “jam” bands. I worked usually 6 nights a week with great bands and vocalists, like Donna Menthol, in Austin, TX. A jazz vocalist with a voice like silk and a gorgeous heart to match. Or Kellye Gray, also in Austin; she became a known jazz vocalist whose untimely passing a couple of years ago touched many music lovers worldwide. And then there’s Oleta Adams…a stellar voice…I was in her band before I was 30. I toured with Jess DeMaine playing country music; his voice was unmatched in that world.
I was lucky. I had great mentors starting with my parents and the music that we listened to as a family; wonderful player friends who were so musically gifted. I learned a lot early. I learned to listen. Be sensitive. Focus. Play all styles. Read music. And also…come from love…because you can’t make real music without that.
You know bassists are all about the gear. And I’m definitely a gear nerd. So I have to ask…any recent game-changing acquisitions to your toolkit?
I bought a Focusrite Scarlett Interface. It has made recording easy – and my basses sound fantastic! I also bought an iPad Pro and an AirTurn Duo. Most of my gigs require lots of charts. I was always putting music in binders however this was life-changing for me! Having all the music in an iPad and a footswitch to turn pages is absolutely fantastic. Changed everything! Don’t need to worry about the wind on an outdoor gig anymore!
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Learn all styles of music. Learn to read. Learn to be flawlessly consistent. Smile when you play. It always makes things better.
What drew you to the music industry?
My father was a professional musician and my mother, although not a professional player, played jazz piano. It was a completely organic thing to do…
What’s an average day like for you?
Pandemic changed things. I adopted the sweetest dog. Maddie. She changed my life. So my days involve walking and playing with her. Teaching my students. Preparing material for upcoming gigs. Stretching my fingers – which is a good thing to do if you’re not playing all the time…
What’s your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite part? Why?
For me, it’s been making music all across the world. Seeing friends I wouldn’t normally get to see but their town is on my tour route! Experiencing different cities and environments. Working with some great players and playing challenging but rewarding music. My least favorite these days is the rigorous travel involved in doing broadway tours and playing 8 shows a week continually.
What was the first instrument you learned how to play?
I started with piano when I was about 7. I studied for years. In junior high school, I started playing flute and continued that as my college major, even during my bass-playing years.
Where can we find you on the interwebs?
Any final thoughts?
Make sure you love playing if you’re going to do this for a living. It’s a hard life. I’ve never believed in “starving for my art” as it makes you bitter. Once you’re bitter you might as well choose something else to do.
Brittany Frompovich is a highly regarded educator, clinician, blogger, and bassist who currently resides in the Washington DC/NOVA region. For more content from Brittany, check out her blog, her YouTube channel, and her Bandcamp site. She also offers handmade unisex music-themed jewelry through her Etsy store. Get a Wonder Woman Tee!