Hit the ‘day job’
Keller Williams goes solo, brings his infectious, acoustic sound to Rev Room.
Acoustic music with a dance vibe using live phrase sampling — that’s what Keller Williams shoots for on stage. Sometimes; at least when he is playing in his one-man band incarnation. Other times the man likes surrounding himself with his favorite musicians.
In 2012, that was Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys, when the singer/songwriter/guitarist joined forces with members of the bluegrass outfit Del McCoury Band. In July, the group released Pick, a collection of 12 originals and covers twisting Americana music. And the band toured, including a New Year’s Eve show in Nashville, Tenn.
But in late 2012, Williams formed Keller Williams and More Than A Little, an R&B/soul/funk band featuring a number of R&B all-stars from Virginia.
And then there’s Kdubalicious, a reggae/funk band where Williams plays bass and sings. The group released Bass in 2011. And don’t forget Keller & The Keels, a progressive bluegrass trio that includes flatpicking guitar champion Larry Keel and his wife Jenny Keel on the acoustic bass. Two albums — Grass and Thief, a covers album with tunes by everyone from Kris Kristofferson to Butthole Surfers and Amy Winehouse — have resulted from that collaboration. Then there’s Williams’ music for children, and a band that includes musicians Keith Moseley, Gibb Droll and Jeff Sipe, and Grateful Grass, an untraditional bluegrass band that plays the music of the Grateful Dead. Oh, the Dead. Yeah, Williams has played with the Rhythm Devils, a band that includes Grateful Dead drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. “A surreal” experience is how Williams describes those few shows with the Rhythm Devils.
So Williams stays busy. But for Friday’s show at the Rev Room, it’ll just be Keller Williams solo. Nothing but the musician, his guitars, his live phrase sampling and his music, which touches down but never stays long in musical territories ranging from bluegrass and folk to jazz and funk to electronic dance music.
The solo gigs are his “day job.” And the sound he creates — acoustic music with a dance vibe — is done all by himself.
“I started [the one-man band music] because I was tired of being the guy in the corner of the bar or restaurant with a guitar that no one heard,” Williams says. “I couldn’t afford humans to start a band, and I didn’t want to rely on computers and all that. I wanted something more organic but with a dance groove.”
Enter Williams’ technique of live phrase sampling. Nothing is pre-recorded. What Williams does is a live looping technique where he plays a guitar rhythm, let’s say, and then he records what he plays and creates a loop of that recording. Then he’ll play something else on the guitar or some other instrument. Along the way he’ll add other instruments and sounds. So for these one-man band solo sets he becomes a live DJ without using any pre-recorded sounds or samples. Every sound he produces is created on stage.
The sounds and music he creates when performing as a one-man band fit into the jam genre, though not neatly. Williams’ music is a little odd. Perhaps quirky. Fun-loving and happy. Unpredictable.
Live phrase sampling is how Williams started in the early ‘90s, and he’s stuck with the sound since, although he has more and more played with bands and other musicians. “Playing the solo gigs makes me want to go out and play with other people,” he says.
He recorded the 1999 album Breathe with The String Cheese Incident, which was one of his very first collaborations with other musicians. His 2007 album Dream is perhaps his most collaborative effort. The album includes guest spots from musicians such as Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Steve Kimock and Bob Weir.
“I find people that I admire musically,” Williams says. “Or, as with the case with More Than A Little, they find me. I know the people in that band from a local bar.”
The plan for 2013 is release a live album from the shows with More Than A Little. Just last week, Williams was digging through tapes from the band’s shows last year. And Williams is also planning on releasing Keys, a collection of tunes with just Williams on piano and vocals.
But first there are several solo shows in early 2013. And then shows with The Keels, More Than A Little, a four-show opening slot for Dark Star Orchestra for the Grateful Dead tribute band’s Jamaican Jam in the Sand, and festival shows with the Travelin’ McCourys. And that’s all before May. So solo or surrounded with musical friends — Williams stays busy. And why not? He loves this musical life he’s created.