Since he first appeared on the scene in the early ’90s, Keller Williams has defined the term independent artist. 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.
Williams’ solo live shows—and his ability to improvise to his determinedly quirky tunes despite the absence of an actual band—quickly became the stuff of legend, and his audience grew exponentially when word spread about this exciting, unpredictable performer. Once he began releasing recordings, starting with 1994’s Freek, Williams was embraced by an even wider community of music fans, particularly the jam band crowd.
Now 2013 and 19 records later, Keller Williams has toured endlessly, both solo and with a band, he’s released a children’s album and book and he has his own radio show! This guy isn’t slowing down anytime soon! With his show with the Carolina Chocolate Drops coming up this Friday, July 12, we had to get the scoop from the man himself! Check out what Keller had to say about his newest record, his most memorable tours and his recent venture: kids!
Your most recent album, Keys, was made to benefit a charity. Is it important to you to give back to the community?
Yes, definitely. We’ve been working with the local chapter of SPCA here for about 10 years. This “Keys” record was a follow up to something I did in 2007 that was called Grateful Grass. We did all Grateful Dead songs bluegrass and we released it with all proceeds going to the Rex foundation. That did really well over the course of five years or so.
You play a huge variety of instruments. What was the first instrument that you learned to play?
We had a piano in my house growing up and as a little kid that would be one of my stops running around the house. A lot of time was spent pretending to play the guitar, too.
You’ve put out an album called Kids, for the 10-and-under crowd, you’ve written and published your first children’s book and you were a part of the Yo Gabba Gabba tour. How did you get into all of that?
For me, putting out records is fun. It’s not a profitable thing, the reason I do it is to document my songs. As someone who puts out records, the last thing I want to do is get into a stale, stagnant type space so that’s why I like to do something different for each one. One of the songs from my children’s record got turned into a book and then, I did a show on Gabba Gabba.
You’ve played with numerous bands and toured with a bunch of different people, is there a tour that you’ve been on that stands out as being the most memorable?
There are a couple really special tours that I remember. One was the Big Summer Classic in 2005 and that was with String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s and many more. We probably did about 20 shows in a month all traveling together with a big line of buses and motor homes. That was really cool. Now, I am especially grateful to be home with my family Sunday through Thursday mornings. All my shows are mainly on the weekend.
If you could play at any venue with any artist/band, where would it be and with whom?
Several things come to mind, but I’m going to say Keith Moseley, Gibb Droll and Jeff Sipe, my band that I picked out in ’07 & ’08. We did a record called “Live”. I would like to do it in the field next to my house.
If you had to name 3 artists or bands that are most influential to you, who would it be?
Michael Hedges, Jerry Garcia and Bobby McFerrin.
What was the first real show that you’ve ever played?
I think it was at this little bar in downtown Fredericksburg that had a little back porch that held about 3 tables and 4 people at each table. That was my first gig and then I ended up doing happy hour at a country club where I was a lifeguard. I got paid $175 to sit there for 2 hours and play covers…at that time minimum wage was about $3.75 so that was a lot of money.
What do you like most about touring?
I guess it’s the release of getting the music out and the energy and the adrenaline of playing a stage show. The people being excited to be there and giving that adrenaline to me and me consuming it and giving it back. The circular energy thing that happens is really cool.
Your playing in Atlanta with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Have you played in Atlanta before?
Yeah, I did Smith’s Olde Bar, The Tabernacle a couple times, and The Fox. I’ve probably played the Variety Playhouse almost 7 or 8 times.
Atlanta is looking forward to seeing Keller Williams open for the Carolina Chocolate Drops on Friday, July 12! Tickets are still available!