Nearly 30 years ago, a young Keith Sykes walked into a pawn shop on Memphis’ famed Beale Street and paid $20 for his first guitar.
Since then, Sykes has made a name for himself as a guitarist/ songwriter/ producer extraordinaire, contributing to projects from artists as diverse as Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Todd Snider, Rosanne Cash and Patty Loveless.
Now on his tenth record Don’t Count Us Out (newly released on Syren Records), Sykes showcases not only his finely honed talents, but those of some of his dearest and most talented friends as well.
This latest work provides the listening audience with a clean break in style from his last great work on Advanced Medication For The Blues. While ‘Advanced Medication’ rocked the house from its opening track, Don’t Count Us Out shows an entirely different side of Sykes with some true finger-picking ‘Americana’ flavor. For more on the new release, click here.
A native of Murray, Kentucky, Sykes moved to Memphis when he was just 8 years old. It was then, as a senior in high school, that he bought that first guitar for $20 at a pawn shop on Beale Street.
After graduation, his mother gave him a lift to the edge of town, where he began hitchhiking for the next two years, taking odd jobs and ultimately ending up in New York City to showcase at The Bitter End.
From there he toured nationally on the College Coffee House Circuit. In 1968, two of his songs were recorded by other artists: The Gentrys cut “Silky” on the Bell label and the Lonesome Rhodes did “I’m Missing You” for RCA. In 1970, Vanguard released Sykes’ self-titled debut album.
Two years later, he went to Japan to play the lead role in the movie “Summer Soldiers.” Vanguard released his second album, 1-2-3, while Sykes was out of the country making the movie.
In 1973, Keith swapped New York for Austin, Texas, then moved on to Key West, Florida, where he met up with Jimmy Buffett. Keith served a brief stint in Buffett’s road band, after Buffett recorded two of Keith’s songs on the platinum Son of a Son of a Sailor LP. Keith later co-wrote what was to become the Parrot-head anthem, “Volcano.”
In 1974, Keith made his way back to Memphis, where he has lived ever since. In 1977, RCA’s Midland International released Sykes’ third album, The Way That I Feel. Sykes was on a roll as a highly acclaimed songwriter and recording artist.
His 1980 Backstreet Records release I’m Not Strange I'm Just Like You subsequently led to an appearance on Saturday Night Live and later a guest spot on Austin City Limits.
Over the years Sykes has been featured in Time and Newsweek magazines and garnered record reviews in Rolling Stone. More records followed: It Don’t Hurt To Flirt in 1982; two albums for Memphis Records in 1984 and 1985, and in 1992 Oh Boy Records released It’s About Time, a singer/songwriter album.
Sykes had one or more songs, (either on LPs or singles, as a writer, co-writer or publisher), on one of Billboard’s music or movie charts continuously from 1978 through 1984, then again from 1986 to this year.
The artists who have covered his songs sounds like a seating chart at The Grammy Awards, including not only Buffett but also Jerry Jeff Walker, Patty Loveless, Guy Clark, John Prine, The Judds, Rosanne Cash, Lacy Jay Dalton and Rodney Crowell, among others.
In 1986 Sykes began to work with new artists and signed John Kilzer to his production and publishing company. The demos he produced for Kilzer’s songs became Kilzer’s debut Geffen Records album and Sykes’ first home run as a producer.
“Producing came out of left field for me,” Sykes says. “I didn’t set out to do it, but I seem to have a knack for it.” That album opened up the playing field for Sykes as a producer.
Keith soon began mentoring Todd Snider, signing him to his publishing company in 1990 and securing Snider a record deal with MCA/Margaritaville in 1993. He has completed projects for Tommy Tutone, GaryBoy, premier songwriter John Prine and veteran hit-maker B.J. Thomas.
Sykes still works as preceptor to many up and coming artists, but in 1995 he began focusing once again on his own recording career. He began hosting a songwriter’s showcase on celebrated Beale Street in Memphis, and each month features some of the country’s premier songwriters.
From that showcase has come one great Syren produced Songwriter's On Beale Street CD with another in the making. All the while he has continued to gather and refine precious jewels: his collection of songs.
Sykes, along with partner Kelcy Warren, also built Syren Records' own recording studio called The Woodshed. Built in a fantastic setting, complete with a beautiful spring-fed lake in back, the Woodshed takes credit as the recording studio for the last four records put out on Syren's label.
Today, Sykes is refreshed and ready for the road! He will be out touring to promote his new record Don't Count Us Out. Be watching his calendar for a show near you and don't forget to keep the private "House Parties" in mind. They are a great way to see Sykes, in your own private setting where the crowd is controlled and everyone has a first row seat to enjoy the music! For more information on how you can host a "House Party," email Clint Wiley.
P.O. Box 17
Eads, TN 38028