Keller Williams Returns To Outer Banks Brewing Station [Concert Preview]
Fredericksburg, Virginia’s “one-man-jam-band” Keller Williams returns to Kill Devil Hills live in concert at the Outer Banks Brewing Station in August.
Those who’ve followed Keller Williams’ recording career to date know that he has given each of his albums a single-word title: Laugh, Buzz, Dance, Home, Loop, Odd, etc. Each title serves not only as a concise summation of the concept guiding the particular project but also as another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is Keller Williams. Grass, for example, is a bluegrass recording, cut with the husband-wife duo the Keels. Stage is a live album and Dream the end product of a wish list: Keller collaborating with some of his greatest musical heroes.
The naming trend has continued with 2010’s Thief and Kids, respectively a set of cover songs and Williams’ first children’s record. What all of the titles reveal, when taken together, is an artist of great stylistic breadth and infinite imagination, a singer, songwriter and musician, always on a quest for the new. Keller Williams has never followed the prescribed path laid out by the conventional music business but rather one of his own making. It’s a path that has served him well.
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. For most of his career he has performed as a one-man band—his stage shows are constructed around Keller singing his compositions and choice cover songs while accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar connected to a Gibson Echoplex delay system that allows him to simulate a full band. 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.”
Williams’ story begins in Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C. There he was exposed to a wide variety of music at an early age, starting with country and bluegrass and working his way up through hip-hop and go-go, a brand of funk particular to that part of the country. Once he began playing guitar, Williams’ sphere expanded to what he calls “the post-pseudo-skateboarder punk-rock rebellious type of thing, Black Flag and Sex Pistols and Ramones, Dead Kennedys, things like that. That slid into the more melodic college rock, like the Cure and the Cult, the Smiths, R.E.M.’s first five or six records.”
Then came the Grateful Dead, a seminal influence on Williams’ own music. “I studied and learned their music and went to the shows,” he says, adding that the impact of Jerry Garcia on his attitude toward music remains incalculable. Another major influence was Michael Hedges, the late virtuoso acoustic guitarist. “He was really excelling in a whole different world from what I knew,” says Williams.
After relocating to Colorado, further exposure to bluegrass music and progressive acoustic artists such as Béla Fleck and the Flecktones also had a major impression on Williams. As he began to develop his own distinctive compositional and performing style, Williams incorporated all of the lessons he’d learned from the long list of artists who’d found their way into his world, then filtered their music through his own experiences until something wholly unique emerged. The list of artists whose music he has covered either in concert or on his recordings constitutes a mind-blowing spread: songs originally performed by everyone from Pink Floyd and Ozzy Osbourne to Ani DiFranco and old-school rappers the Sugar Hill Gang!
What Williams calls “the looping thing” is actually a big part of what has made him such a compelling live performer. “Basically, I have these machines that are essentially delay units,” he explains. “What I do is step on a button and sing or play something. Then I step on the same button in time and it repeats what I just played or sang. Once that initial loop is created, I can layer on a bass line or a drum line and then have this layer that I just created in front of an audience that I could sing over and solo over. Nothing is pre-recorded. Everything is created onstage in front of the audience.”
If it sounds complicated, it is: but the basic thrust is that the technology has allowed Williams to go out on tour week after week, year after year, and play music by himself—without limiting his sound to what we most often associate with the solo singer-songwriter: a guy strumming a guitar and singing. With his arsenal of tech toys, Williams can expand his reach onstage by, in essence, jamming with himself.
As if all of this doesn’t keep him busy enough, Keller’s thirst for music of all kinds has also led him to the world of radio. For the past several years he has hosted Keller’s Cellar, a weekly syndicated program available on both terrestrial stations and online at www.kellerwilliams.net. Williams describes the show as “a self-indulgent, hour-long narrated mix tape of stuff I’m into. It’s rule-less except for what the FCC says we can’t do. I don’t play contemporary country music. I don’t play contemporary Christian music—however, there is possibly some old gospel. I don’t play opera. Everything else is fair. World music from all around—African music from all the countries, jazz, funk, reggae, techno, chill, lounge, lounge singers, rub-a-dub, dancehall. I pretty much stay away from smooth jazz. It’s definitely a fun outlet for me. I’m trying to do something different.”
Something different. That, we can assume, is how it will always be with Keller Williams.
You can watch the official video for Keller Williams’ “Thin Mint” in the player below!
Keller Williams takes the stage at the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills on Friday, August 2.
Showtime is 10pm.
Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and can be purchased now at the Brewing Station.