Keller Williams is not only a one man band, he’s a one man party. “For my career I have to take having fun extremely seriously,” he says from his home in Virginia. “It's very important and it’s demanded in my camp,” Keller Williams will be returning to Houston to perform at Warehouse Live on Saturday, April 30.
Williams has built his career over the past 30 years on his ability to play a wide range of instruments incorporating sounds from all over the world in his approach where he creates live loops on stage as he weaves his stories within the songs which are not only wildly entertaining to himself and others but most importantly, keep the audiences dancing.
Williams is rooted in bluegrass and loose jam band grooves but he is never afraid to blend genres or choose a surprising song to cover as evidenced in his take on what he describes as a “perfect song” Kasey Muskgraves “Slow Burn” which he did with husband and wife duo The Keels in 2019.
“I get ideas just way too frequently on covers,” admits Williams. “It could be unhealthy sometimes. Songs that should never be done in a certain way, I take it there to a fault. It definitely keeps me entertained and that's what's important to keep hammering that detail, if I’m not entertained then it doesn't work.”
Williams was a bonafide Deadhead following the Kings and Queens of all jam bands, The Grateful Dead back in the day. He describes how before safety measures put an end to it, he could have been found dancing in the hallways of the stadiums with the other hippies who just couldn’t get enough space in their seats to dance it out.
“In the hallway would be an assembly of just spinning, spun freaky hippies and a lot of interpretive dance, spinning, a lot of weird shit going on there. I was lucky to be part of the tail end of those years to where you know what the band looks like and you don't have to be confined to a concert arena seat space,” he describes.
Williams went from playing in the parking lot of Dead shows to performing on stage and in what could only be described as a full circle moment, eventually sharing stages with his musical heroes.
In 2017 he toured with one of his guitar heroes and obvious influences in his finger picking guitar playing style, Leo Kottke eventually purchasing a 12 string guitar from him.
"It just sounded and felt like him. It had his oils in it you know," says Williams of the treasured instrument which he plans on using to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his album Laugh this year.
“It’s definitely a full circle thing especially when you're in a production office in Red Rocks with just you and Bob Weir and I'm singing the harmonies that Jerry would sing. That’s what's really freaky.”
He continues to carry with him this same, contagious joy for music from his youth as it virtually impossible to see Williams do his thing without joining in on the fun. “It is more of entertaining myself that is the priority,” he says laughing about his on stage energy and theatrics.
Williams studied theater but in his youth quickly realized that playing music was where it was at for him when he could make more money than his minimum wage construction job by wearing a suit and tie while performing covers at the local country club.
“Trying to make a living, feed myself and pay bills without actually having a job, that was kind of the plan. That was the teenage, stoner, deadhead type of idea. How can I live man without conforming,” he says imitating his younger self. Lived he has with a mind that seems to go as fast as his fingers. Throughout his prolific career Williams has released a whopping 28 albums since his 1994 Freek. This year he released Grit, yet another testament to his ability to seamlessly embrace eclectic sounds and instrumentation with tracks including pedal steel and vibraphone. On "Imaginary Song" Williams describes the result of his sonic fusion cleverly as "Deepak Chopra line dancing."
“I’ve definitely done a lot of MIDI stuff with tablas and strange Indian flutes and African stuff that I can get through MIDI but definitely the first one with pedal steel so that's kind of monumental for me in my sonic backlog of brain power.”
Williams stays busy with touring while constantly writing and recording in his basement then taking his songs recorded onto CD to longtime friend and producer Jeff Covert at Wally Cleaver's Recording Studio. “These past couple of months I've been flowing with material and inspiration and he's been right there grabbing it, recording it and fixing it.”
“I take all these CDs in and he lays them in the computer, kind of lines them up and then there's a song that was created out of thin air with my CD recording. It’s just so 1993 as opposed to where recording is now. I’m just recording things in my own way and then taking them into the future by way of Jeff helping me line them all up, fixing them and making them sound right.”
Keller Williams will perform on Saturday, April 30 at Warehouse Live, 813 Saint Emanuel. Doors at 7:30 p.m. $25-400.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.