Keller Williams Keeps Us In the Loop
For the record, Keller Williams does not sell real estate. He does, however, tour regularly on the jam band circuit, where he routinely impresses audiences with his one-man band approach. With the help of looping technology, Williams constructs his crowd pleasing grooves right on stage, layer by layer, all with the air of a goofy guy in bare feet, a faded t-shirt and baggy cargo shorts. Touring in support of Dream, his latest effort, Williams is due at Red Rocks on Tuesday, July 24 with Bob Weir’s Ratdog.
Westword: Hi Keller, where are you right now?
Keller Williams: I’m pacing around a used car lot near Fredericksburg, Virginia, which is where I live. It’s just south of the Washington DC area.
So the summer tour hasn’t started yet?
No. I leave tomorrow. I fly out to Milwaukee for the first show, then I’ll continue to fly for another show or two before jumping on a tour bus for the rest of the run.
You’ll be doing most of the tour with Bob Weir and Ratdog. Do you plan to get on stage with them at some point?
Oh yeah. I hope to cross pollinate with Ratdog. We’ve done some shows together in the past and Bobby has joined me during my set a few times. In fact, I first played with Weir at Red Rocks back in 2001.
How did that happen and how did it go?
I was on the road doing a few dates with Ratdog and I had asked Weir if he’d be interested in playing a song or two with me. He decided that Red Rocks was the best place to make that happen. I was thrilled. We did a few songs on acoustic guitar. I think we played "On the Road Again" (George Jones version) and the old-time standard "Dark Hollow." We also played a version of the Dead tune "Birdsong." I actually got to do some looping during that one.
Can you explain how you loop?
Actually, the correct term is “phrase sampling.” I step on a button, then I play something in real time. Then I step on the button again, and it plays back whatever I just played.
How many layers/loops can you create at a give time?
It’s limitless, but I generally start with a bass line, followed by some drums, a little percussion, a keyboard line and some vocals. I don’t usually put down more than about seven phrases at a time. But they are all created right there on stage.
Do you ever get confused or play something you don’t like?
If I do, I can hit the “suck button,” which clears out the layers one by one.
Is it lonely being the only person in your “band?”
Not really. I bring family and friends with me on the tour bus so I’ve got company. And I’m married with a two and a half year old daughter. She comes along, too.
How would you classify your music?
I call it solo-acoustic-jazz-funk-reggae-techno-grass.
What musicians have influenced you?
My major influences include Michael Hedges, Victor Wooten, Bobby McFerrin, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. I’m also a huge Charlie Hunter fan.
Do you play a lot of leads in your music?
I never officially studied music, so I don’t really run scales. The “leads” I play are kind of poser riffs. I usually just go up and down one string. I learned music by ear. I had friends show me some chords and I went from there. I listen to stuff over and over and try to imitate it.
Do you ever argue with yourself about creative decisions?
I’ve been known to wrestle with myself.