By Forrest Reda
The one-man-jam-band, K-Dub, a dancing man, the Freek, a one-man band for the digital age, Jam-Man, a guitar virtuoso, an irreverent musi-comedian. Keller Williams has been called many things over his career, but lazy is not one of them. Playing multiple instruments on stage at every show, Keller is continually on a mission to create a new tapestry of sound, looping himself into a sonic frenzy and writing his set list on the fly. It's a lot of work to pull off every night, but somehow Keller manages, and the music world is a better place because of it.
Keller Williams by C. Taylor Crothers
In the beginning it was just a man and his guitar. Keller honed his chops in his native Virginia playing restaurant gigs that no one else wanted. A popular aspect of Keller's live show, the relentless segues from song to song, originated in these early days, simply from wanting to avoid the uncomfortable silence between songs when it was just Keller and a few bartenders.
Keller played in bands during his college years but wanted to use the money he made to tour not to record albums, which is what the bands invariably wanted to do. So, he set out on his own as a solo artist. After a few years on the coffeehouse circuit in Virginia, Keller relocated to Colorado. He wanted to get to the West Coast, but on the way he stopped to check out the Telluride Bluegrass festival, and playing in Colorado's ski towns meant he could get lift tickets in exchange for playing music.
"As a teenager starting to play gigs, the West Coast was my goal. I just wanted to be able to play the West Coast somehow. When I started the only way to do that would be to get a record deal and be backed by some label to be able to go on tour. Then, the Internet came along, and then the tape trading thing helped me get my music over there without any kind of record deal."
In Colorado, Keller was introduced to a ski town circuit jam band with a funny name, The String Cheese Incident. Impressed with their ability to jump from genre to genre, he went to as many shows as he could, eventually befriending the band due to their shared musical sensibilities. Keller's ability to entertain an audience was duly noted, and when SCI expanded its touring radius outside of Colorado, Keller was invited along for the ride.
The energy that Keller radiates into the audience at his shows is infectious, but his everyman persona attracts fans as much as his musical choices. When he first emerged onto the national stage in 1997 he seemed like just another dude from the lawn at a Dead show, able to lead a campfire in song with his trusty acoustic guitar and encyclopedic knowledge of lyrics.
Keller Williams :: Bonnaroo '03 by Dave Vann
Little did we realize that Keller had found the Pick of Destiny towards the end of the Grateful Dead's run, probably at Deer Creek, which allowed him to become a guitar virtuoso with a unique sound that could fill theaters from coast to coast. An avid self-learner, Keller taught himself how to play guitar and loop his music in the live setting, in real-time. The problem was Keller was doing it in the most problematic way possible, utilizing hand cues to communicate with his soundman to control the desired loops. In 1998, Victor Wooten showed Keller how to use the Lexicon Jam Man to create and control loops, and Keller found the missing link - live phrase sampling. He has amazed audiences ever since with his apparent ability to control an ever expanding array of instruments onstage.