Industry Legend Peter Keys Talks About Lynyrd Skynyrd, New Projects, and An Incredible Career
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Industry Legend Peter Keys Talks About Lynyrd Skynyrd, New Projects, and An Incredible Career

Peter Keys has been rocking the stage and studio for nearly four decades. Although he has become iconic for his roll as piano player for the legendary southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, his music career has spanned nearly his whole life, ranging across many different genres and styles of music. He learned to play classical music from the age of four, with his musical education continuing throughout high school and even after graduation at the Berklee College of Music.

Despite his rigorous classical training, Peter Keys has always had eyes for countless other genres of music. From the time he attended his first rock concert at the age of thirteen, a cathartic experience, Peter Keys knew that he wanted to seek out and master all different styles and types of music. From the Bay Area psychedelic blues scene, to the Motown sounds of Detroit, or the urban bounce of hip hop and the southern rock and roll of Atlanta and Nashville, Peter has developed a style of playing that is both unique and familiar within many genres of popular music. His hybrid of Funk, Blues,Soul, Rock, and Jazz chops cover a wide spectrum of sound, and his years of experience on stage bring a presence and chemistry that is rarely achieved.

With access to such a prolific and talented musician as Peter Keys, we couldn’t help but pick his brain about topics like life as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, his favorite performances over the years, and the next steps in his incredible career. Check out the exclusive interview, reproduced below:

 

Idols 2 Rivals: You have been rocking the stage for almost 4 decades, what first got you into music?

Peter Keys: Both my parents were classically trained pianists, and I grew up listening to my aunts and uncles playing bluegrass and rock and roll every time we’d have family gatherings. Which was quite often, like almost every weekend.

I2R: What it’s like being the piano player for Lynyrd Skynyrd?

PK: That’s kind of a big question. Simply put, it’s amazing. I get to play some of the most iconic piano parts and solos in American rock and roll. The genius of Billy Powell is clear in the composition of all his signature riffs, as well as the comping behind the three guitar front line. As a player learning his parts, I came to understand more about the music, and piano as a featured instrument in the context of the timeless Skynyrd catalog. Filling the shoes of a legend is definitely a humbling experience.

I2R: How do you define yourself as a musician outside of Lynyrd Skynyrd rather than be defined by it?

PK: When I got the gig, it was important for me to learn everything note for note to maintain the integrity of the music (and to land the job) I was also conscious of the massive presence the piano held in all the arrangements. As a performer and artist, I was also aware of the powerful identity of the band as a whole. In becoming the piano player for such an iconic band, I had to find a way to maintain my identity while still respecting and honoring Billy and the music. I am an artist and composer as well as a performer, so keeping some kind of separation between the band and Peter Keys has definitely been a challenge. I wanted to define myself within Lynyrd Skynyrd, rather than be defined by it. The way I have done that is by working with other artists in different genres, as well as composing, producing and releasing my own material. I have co-written several records with Hip Hop artist Yelawolf, who is brilliant, and a legend in his own right. We just wrapped up a project with Shooter Jennings called “Sometimes Y’ which is a complete departure from hip-hop into the rock genre, so that was super fun. I also spend much of my time in the studio writing and composing for TV and film, which has been really rewarding creatively.

I2R: How would you describe the music that you typically create?

PK: The music I typically create is a hybrid of blues/funk/soul and classic rock. Typically, but not always. I love synthesis and sound design as well, so often times I’ll get into some pretty electronic music. I’m currently studying symphonic film scoring which is bringing me back my classical roots.

I2R: We know you have worked with Lynyrd Skynyrd, the outrageous 420 Funk Mob featuring George Clinton, Yelawolf, and countless other indie bands and artists, but who else would you most like to collaborate with?

PK: As far as collaborations go, I think it would be a blast to work with someone like Jack White, as he has that Detroit/Motown vibe, seems super creative and makes amazing music. I would also love to get in the studio with Les Claypool or the Chili Peppers.

I2R: What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?

PK: What would I be doing right now if it wasn’t for my music career? Dishes…laundry… absolutely no idea, that thought never crosses my mind…ever..

I2R: What are your favorite and least favorite venues?

PK: Shoreline Ampitheater… Home of the Grateful Dead. So many great shows, killer location. The Bill Graham spot…awesome food, my old stomping ground. Least favorite venue: anywhere on lower broadway Nashville.

I2R: What is your favorite song to perform?

PK: Favorite song to perform… Freebird, no question. Every night, just brings the house down!

I2R: What is the best advice you’ve been given?

PK: Best advice I’ve ever been given…“Do what you’re told, and keep your mouth shut.” Thanks Jimi Romeo. Best advice I can give, “do this like your life depends on it.. because it does”

I2R: What’s next for you?

PK: What’s next for me? I’m writing, producing, and releasing new music all the time, working on several indie film projects, scoring pictures, and composing, about to hit the road with Skynyrd this spring. Also just released a short film based on my song “Freaks” which will be available to stream in the next week or 2, stay tuned!

 

Interested in more from Peter Keys? Check out his featured performance on the single “Wicked Girl” by blues/rock artist Tyler Boone!