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Left-handed grandmaster of funk Al McKay was born in New Orleans in 1948. He would go on to become a multi-talented guitarist, producer, session player, and songwriter. His energetic style of funk guitar was the power source that propelled Earth Wind & Fire to become one of the most popular bands of the 1970’s.
As a journeyman guitarist he played with The Ike and Tina Turner Revue and Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Band. As an in demand session player, he performed on dates for such diverse artists as Sammy Davis Jr., The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Andy Williams, Isaac Hayes, and The Sylvers.
From 1973 to 1981 McKay co-wrote and played guitar on what would become the sound track to a generation. Earth Wind & Fire were arguably the greatest, most sophisticated, and visionary funk band of their time. From their early beginnings experimenting with R&B, jazz, soul, rock, and Latin-rock, they evolved over time to discover their signature sound. As their song writing style morphed, numerous hit singles emerged. They augmented their dense and syncopated funky style with catchy choruses about spirituality, New Age philosophy, and love. They injected their music with elements of World Music before the term existed, and it was their positive and uplifting message that separated them from the more party oriented funk bands of the time.
Chart topping hits such as “Let’s Groove,” “September,” “Fantasy,” and “Sing a Song,” feature a master class in funk guitar techniques. McKay is a very diverse player who utilizes many guitar techniques taken from some of the best elements in American music. You can hear muted dyads; Freddy King inspired blues concepts, sixteenth note single lines, and jazzy major seventh arpeggios. McKay could do it all. Check out his relentless rhythm workout on the song “Getaway.” Try playing a long to the record. He will wear you out! His metronomic, yet earthy sense of time is scary.
The albums, Open Your Eyes, That’s The Way Of The World, Spirit, All ‘N All, and I Am, are all prime target areas for extrapolating McKay’s deep pocket and hellacious sense of groove. His gift is locking in between the bass and drums and dreaming up rhythmic, yet very memorable melodic parts that make a song really pop. It’s his innate sense of “feel” that’s made him such an in demand guitarist.
McKay is left handed and always favored vintage instruments. He’s used many guitars over the years, but his number #1 was a left-handed ’72 Gibson 335. Other guitars he used back in his tenure with Earth Wind & Fire included a Les Paul Custom, Fender Telecaster, Gibson L5, and a Gibson SG. He was known to run those into a Roland Jazz Chorus, Vox Super Beatle, and a Fender Twin Reverb. For effects: Space Echo, Pro-Co Rat, Vox Wah, and an MXR Phaser.
Al McKay can currently be seen performing with the Al McKay Allstars with a large revolving cast of fellow musicians laying down the funk, expanding the Earth, Wind & Fire experience, and sharing the wide spectrum of music that helped make Al McKay one of the baddest dudes to ever pick up a guitar.