An Evening with Keller Williams
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Something different. That, we can assume, is how it will always be with Keller Williams. “Doing my solo shows makes me excited about collaborating with other artists, and collaborating with others makes me excited about doing my solo shows—each aspect of what I do helps the other.” That’s how Keller Williams describes his fondness for the eclectic hopscotching he does between solo and group projects. In recent years, he’s played and / or recorded with the String Cheese Incident, The Keels, and members of the Grateful Dead. And his latest album, “Pick” was a confab with the Travelin’ McCourys, which is the offshoot from the iconic bluegrass act The Del McCoury Band, minus Del, who is easing into semi-retirement.
But even in his solo shows, Williams is a literal one-man band. Onstage, he plays an acoustic guitar that is patched into a delay system that he operates with foot pedals. So, as he plays and sings, he uses the pedals to create sonic loops that add more textures, which he then plays along with, and improvises off of—essentially creating the sound of a full band. (He also sometimes bangs on plastic tubes and feeds that sound into the system, to percussive effect.)
He also has an electric guitar and bass propped up onstage, which the delay system is also patched into, and every now and then “I’ll play 8 or 16 bars on one of those, and which just adds more possibilities to the mix. It’s very freeing—there is an unlimited number of directions I can go in with this approach,” says Williams. “I have hundreds of songs that are somehow stuck in my brain, and I can choose from any of them, at any moment, and make up a groove on the spot, and then go in any other direction the moment I want, without having to have rehearsed it all with a band.”
Since he first appeared on the scene in the early ’90s, Williams has defined the term independent artist. And his recordings tell only half the story. Keller built his reputation initially on his engaging live performances, no two of which are ever alike. That approach, Williams explains, was derived from “hours of playing solo with just a guitar and a microphone, and then wanting to go down different avenues musically. I couldn’t afford humans and didn’t want to step into the cheesy world of automated sequencers where you hit a button and the whole band starts to play, then you’ve got to solo along or sing on top of it. I wanted something more organic yet with a dance groove that I could create myself.”