At age 15, Larry Baeder put the violin down to focus on guitar, a decision that would affect the lives of countless musicians and fans.
Baeder’s father was attending college in Philadelphia when Larry was born. The family moved back to Kansas City shortly thereafter. Larry is one of those special individuals who was born with the natural ability to grasp and understand music. At age 5, he began learning to play the violin. His parents were quite strict and encouraged him to practice three times daily and to focus on his gift. By age 16, Baeder was playing guitar professionally.
“I’m very fortunate in that I have never made money doing anything but playing or teaching music,” Baeder says. “I wouldn’t even know what else to do if I had to.”
At 17, one of Larry’s mentors, the legendary Diane “Mama” Ray, spent an entire afternoon persuading Baeder’s parents to allow him to go on tour with her as her guitar player. That summer they took off for El Paso, Texas and toured several cities before returning to Kansas City.
When Larry turned 19, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career.
“I really did learn a lot about music and life in L.A.,” he recalls. “I had many great teachers there and was able to play with so many exceptional musicians. I enjoyed my time there, but being a young man, I found myself a bit homesick.”
He returned home and then received a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, where he studied guitar and composition.
“I was actually a classical composition major,” he says. “I already knew the basics of reading music, but really expanded my ability to do so while at Berklee. Reading music is an especially important skill that has led to much of my success.”
Not long after graduation, Baeder ended up in New York City and formed a trio with two now-legendary musicians, drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and bassist Charlie Torres. The trio played all over the city, including a place called Red Lion, where a young guitarist and singer/songwriter named John Mayer would often open for them.
Baeder eventually hooked up with bluesman and harmonica legend James Montgomery, who asked him to join his band. Baeder spent a good part of the next six years touring with the James Montgomery Band under the Capricorn Record label. They toured the world, often opening for acts like Bonnie Raitt, James Cotton, the Allman Brothers Band and Junior Wells.
Well-known producer Jimmy Miller eventually hired Baeder to do quite a bit of session recording, including playing guitar on a Buddy Guy album. Session work connected Baeder with some of the top recording artists on the scene.
He eventually helped form a band called East Coast Funk Busters, which included Alex Taylor (brother of James Taylor), actor/musician Dan Aykroyd and Baeder. They played the grand opening of the Hard Rock Café in Dallas with an all-star band that featured Taylor, Matt Murphy, Duck Dunn, Steve Cropper, James Montgomery, Chris Clifton and Baeder. The headliner for that show was the great Chuck Berry, with whom Baeder played on stage a dozen times in his career.
Baeder’s career has allowed him to play and tour with renowned bluesmen Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Junior Wells.
Over his career, Baeder had made multiple trips to Key West to play the Hog’s Breath, Green Parrot and other venues with various bands. In the early 2000s, as Baeder was set to become a father, he decided to move to Key West, where he knew he could continue to make a living playing music while being present to raise his twins.
“The scene here in Key West is simply fantastic.” Baeder said. “There are so many opportunities to play solo or alongside many talented musicians.”
Over the past two decades, Baeder has become an icon of the Key West scene. From his solo
performances to his performances with his band the Muse Gurus to his work with legendary vocalist Terri White, to his unforgettable duo performances with the great Bill Blue, Baeder has become a fan favorite in Key West.
“What an honor it has been to play with so many great musicians here in Key West. All of them have had a profound impact on my life.” Baeder said. “Bill Blue really stands out to me. Bill is as deep a bluesman as anyone I have ever played with. He is absolutely the real deal, a true legend.”
Larry has stayed busy in 2022, having taken only a few days off since January. He continues to
play regularly and has begun writing music again. He plans to record at least one more album in the near future.
His involvement in mentoring and teaching young musicians would require another full column. Baeder won the Iggy Award for Mentor of the Year at the inaugural Key West Music Awards in January.
It was an honor to interview Larry Baeder, and I did my best to summarize his career and commitment in this column. But sharing his entire story, which should absolutely be done, would require an entire book.