In one amazing year, Topeka's Andy McKee has gone from a relatively unknown guitar teacher to an international overlord of progressive acoustic music. The amazing ascension began in November 2006, when McKee's label CandyRat posted a remarkable rendition of his song "Drifting" — a percussive-tapping number that made McKee look like a reanimated superoctopus. The shit went viral, and pretty soon McKee was getting calls from Carson Daly and Josh Groban (who tapped McKee to play "The Little Drummer Boy" for his chart-topping Christmas album). This week, McKee unveils an album of duets with his idol, the Canadian finger-style master Don Ross, titled The Thing That Came From Somewhere — a pretty accurate summation of McKee's burgeoning celebrity.
The Pitch: What's your best guess as to why you're tearing up YouTube and hundreds of other awesome guitar players are not?
Andy McKee: I don't want to be known as some amazing guitar player. I want to be known as someone who writes good music. I get e-mails from guys who are into hip-hop and death metal that are like, "Man, I love your music."
What did you make of all this when it was happening?
I was freaked out. I was at the music store where I used to teach when I got an e-mail from a fan saying, "You just got featured on the front page of YouTube." I called Rob at CandyRat, and he was like, "Oh, man, it's all over now." I stopped teaching that month and started performing.
How did you first hear Don Ross?
One of my students brought in one of his records and wanted to learn a track, and I was just like, Oh, my God, this is awesome. I took it home and spent the whole week trying to learn a bunch of the tunes. I eventually got my own copy.
How did you prepare for Carson Daly?I was actually in the green room going over the song like crazy. I've played it for, like, 10 years, but it was my first time on national TV. Luckily, I didn't screw it up.