John Paul Keith
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John Paul Keith

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2008 | INDIE | AFM

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2008
Band Americana Roots




"Roots rocker John Paul Keith doubles up with new solo LP, plus project from Americana combo Motel Mirrors"

It’s been five long years since Memphis roots rocker John Paul Keith released a new album, and for good reason.

“I got divorced in the middle of making my last record. It took me five years to get anything out because I was pretty much a mess that whole time,” says Keith with a rueful chuckle. “I was having a midlife crisis and I had to write my way out of it.”

This latest chapter is just another twist in Keith’s roller coaster career. A Knoxville native, he earned a pair of ill-fated major-label deals (once as a member of the V-Roys, then later leading the Nevers) before he turned 23. He then slogged it out for a decade, bouncing between bands in New York City, Nashville and Birmingham. Keith eventually quit music in frustration after a series of shady managers, bad business deals and professional dead ends soured him.

In 2005, he moved to Memphis, intent on giving up music. Instead he rediscovered his muse. Launching a solo career, he released a trio of exquisite and widely acclaimed records on the Mississippi label Big Legal Mess: 2009’s “Spills and Thrills,” 2011’s “The Man That Time Forgot,” 2013's “Memphis Circa 3AM” -- as well as a live record and an EP as Motel Mirrors, a collaboration with fellow Memphis artist Amy LaVere.

But for the last half decade, Keith -- while still being a reliably active and popular live performer – has been unusually quiet on the recorded front. That changes next week as Keith puts out a pair of platters: a solo LP titled “Heart Shaped Shadow,” and a full-length with Motel Mirrors (which now includes guitarist Will Sexton and drummer Shawn Zorn) called “In the Meantime.” Keith and the Mirrors will celebrate with a free dual release concert at Railgarten on March 30.

For Keith, someone heavily rooted in classic county music, it might seem that the pain and uncertainty of a d-i-v-o-r-c-e would provide fodder for songs. But he says that experience didn’t translate to quality material – at least initially.

“I actually wrote a bunch of songs that weren’t very good. I went and demo’d them and something was missing. Truth is, I was spiraling in my personal life and it damaged my writing for a while. I wasn’t sure for a long time what I wanted to do. Or if I could even do it.”

Enter Will Sexton. A former child guitar phenom who flourished in Austin, Texas’ hothouse musical environment, Sexton came up playing with iconic Lone Star figures such as Doug Sahm, Roky Erickson and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and scored a major label deal while still in his teens. Over the past 25 years, Sexton has grown into a respected writer, producer and artist with a string of lauded solo albums to his credit. Sexton’s own move to the Bluff City was prompted by love: he met, courted and eventually married LaVere in 2014. He soon joined the Motel Mirrors lineup, and became fast running buddies with Keith.

“Will came to town and became a part of my life and that opened up a new perspective on writing and playing for me,” says Keith. “We decided to have Will be a part of the band and do a Motel Mirrors record together. We put that whole album together in a week. I would go to Amy and Will’s house and sit in their kitchen and write songs and put the material together. I’d never done that with anyone before. They pulled things out of my songs that I was afraid to reveal, I think.”

The resulting sessions yielded “In the Meantime,” a sweetly melancholic 12-track split between Keith, Sexton and LaVere. The disc re-channels their individual talents into an appealing collaborative set of soulful roots-pop.

Keith says the Mirrors experience was a catalyst for resuming his solo career in the studio. “I came out the other side of it because of that Mirrors record. I was totally refreshed and renewed,” he says. “Amy and Will had pointed me in the right direction. And I asked Will to produce my [solo project]. Will thinks of things I wouldn’t think of and hears things, ideas, I wouldn’t hear. You value that from a producer.”

It also helped, notes Keith, that Sexton is also one of the world’s great guitarists. “On the last couple records I made, I’m the only guitar player on there. At the time, that made sense to me. But when you have someone as creative, and singularly creative as Will is, it opens up a lot of possibilities.”

Keith and Sexton decided to record the album with the Bo-Keys' Scott Bomar at his Electraphonic Studios. They cut and mixed the entire album on analog tape, using a limited eight-track setup. “You go into it knowing that you’re going get a different kind of record because of the limitations," says Keith. "It makes you perform totally different and you have to be more selective in what you put on it. You have a finite number of things you can do. It’s a fun challenge.”

For Keith, the greater challenge was in topping his last album, “Memphis Circa 3AM” –the final project produced by late legendary Sun/Phillips session man Roland Janes -- which was a clear high watermark in his catalog. But "Heart Shaped Shadow" confidently stakes its claim as Keith’s best, with a mix of witty honky-tonk (“Leave Them Girls Alone”; “Ain’t Letting Go of You”) halting heartbreakers (“Someday Someone’s Gonna Love Me”; “901 Number”) and bluesy belters (“Do You Really Wanna Do It”; “Throw it On Me Baby”) that sound like instant classics.

With both solo and Mirrors records in the can, “rather than stagger them, we came up with the idea of putting them out at the same time,” says Keith. Little Rock’s Last Chance Records is releasing both projects on CD and vinyl next week.

Happily, Keith says any thoughts of emotional or creative crises are long forgotten. “In fact, I've already written enough songs for the next record – good ones, too,” he says, laughing. “These records aren’t even out, and I’m chomping at the bit to do the next record. That’s a good sign.” - Memphis Commercial-Appeal


Heart Shaped Shadow (Last Chance Records, 2018)

Memphis Circa 3AM (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum, 2013)

The Man That Time Forgot (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum, 2011)

Spills And Thrills (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum, 2009)


In the Meantime (Last Chance Records, 2018)

Motel Mirrors (Archer Records, 2013)



A 15-year veteran of the Memphis music scene, singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Paul Keith has four critically acclaimed solo albums, including his latest, Heart Shaped Shadow. The album was produced by Austin, Texas guitar legend Will Sexton for Last Chance Records, alongside In The Meantime, the debut full-length from Motel Mirrors, a collaboration between Keith, Sexton, and singer/bassist Amy LaVere, which reached #21 on the Americana Albums chart in 2018.

In addition to his own projects, John Paul recently appeared on the tribute album Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records, with proceeds going to St. Jude. In 2017, John Paul had the honor of performing with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Roy Orbison. That same year, his song “Afraid To Look” was featured in the Paramount film Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Kristin Wiig. John Paul also contributed a song to the Don Bryant album from Fat Possum Records, Don’t Give Up on Love, which was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2018 Blues Music Awards.

John Paul Keith just completed his third headlining tour of Europe in 2019 and continues to tour the US regularly. When he’s not on the road, JPK can often be found playing Memphis classics alongside his own originals on Beale Street with a crack 6-piece band with horns. In December 2019, John Paul was the host and musical director of the Elvis: A Christmas Peace concert at the SoundStage at Graceland, performing Elvis Presley’s favorite holiday and spiritual music, and in January 2020 he paid tribute to Sun Records with a special concert at the Guest House at Graceland for Elvis’ 85th birthday. 

John Paul Keith’s fifth studio album, The Rhythm Of The City, is planned for 2020.