All about that bass: Chef Harrison Keevil gets a dream gift (a guitar, not a fish)

Chef Keevil and his beloved Höfner bass at his Belmont shop, Keevil & Keevil. Photo: John Robinson Chef Keevil and his beloved Höfner bass at his Belmont shop, Keevil & Keevil. Photo: John Robinson

Sometimes, when you hear the name of a well-known local chef, you think of him only for his culinary exploits. You may recognize Harrison Keevil for his corner store in Belmont, Keevil & Keevil, where he offers great sandwiches, salads, and desserts, and prepares meals for home delivery. If you’re into the Charlottesville restaurant scene, you might also know that Keevil once ran his own place, Brookville, on the Downtown Mall, and recently helped to create the concept of “modern Virginia cuisine” that informs the menu—and serves as the tagline—at Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar.

All of these things are impressive, and Keevil certainly cuts a figure in the local food landscape. But he also plays a mean bass guitar. We discovered this in July, when Keevil posted a photograph of a black Höfner 500 four-string—the signature instrument of Paul McCartney—on his Instagram feed. We knew right away that Keevil is more than a casual bassist, otherwise the photo wouldn’t have also shown a daisy chain of effects pedals on the floor.

“I have wanted this bass for over 30 years (since my mom and dad introduced me to the Beatles), and @jpkeevil made it happen on my 37th bday,” he wrote. “So awesome!”

The awesomeness was a gift from his wife, Jennifer (@jpkeevil). It struck a profound chord for the chef, whose aunt, a Long Islander, was present at the 1965 Beatles concert at Shea Stadium that solidified the British Invasion. Keevil’s mom was the younger sister, not old enough to attend the show. But back in rural Goochland County, she and her husband made sure that young Harrison (after his grandfather’s surname, not George Harrison) got an earful of the Fab Four from an early age.

“The first album I got was Revolver,” Keevil says. “That one definitely opened the door.”

His next move was to get the Beatles songbook and learn to play their songs on his Dean bass. (Mind you, the kid was still in grade school at the time.) That was what he calls his “cheap and cheerful” bass—nothing compared to the Hofner that Jennifer bought for him.

Keevil went on to perform in a band in high school, and in another group in college. Neither was established enough even to have a name, but they scratched the itch that Keevil first felt when he heard Revolver. Come to think of it, the fact that that album marked the beginning of the Beatles’ psychedelic phase may partly explain why Keevil’s college group was a trippy jam band and not a pop band.

Not long after college, Keevil found his way to the French Culinary Institute, in Manhattan, which propelled him into his career as a chef. But the Beatles—and especially, McCartney—remained an inspiration to him, even after the ex-Beatle started Wings. “I was really into James Bond at one point, so I loved Paul’s music, you know, ‘Live and Let Die.’”

Today, Keevil plays his bass daily, just noodling around or perhaps playing a song or two. He’s practicing for the Party Like a Rock Star event October 18 at the Music Resource Center. Jennifer is on the MRC committee organizing the event, and Keevil will play a favorite song, the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero.”

Playing the Hofner is the equivalent of working with just the right knife in the kitchen. It feels good in your hands and is easy to use.

“The Hofner makes a big difference for me,” he says. “I love the bass and its association with McCartney, but there’s also something great about the fretboard. You can play it more like a guitar, you know, multiple notes at once as opposed to just one at a time.

We get it. Why be “just” a chef when you can be a bass player, too.

“Playing the Hofner is the equivalent of working with just the right knife in the kitchen,” he “It feels good in your hands and is easy to use.”

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