‘One-man jam band’
‘One-man jam band’
Guitarist Keller Williams talks about his unique style and latest album, Grass, featuring artists such as Martin Sexton, The String Cheese Incident and Victor Wooten.
By Marc Shapiro
Keller Williams is not just another guitar player. He creates an entire song on the spot, layering several instruments on top of each other using looping technology. Throw in his skills on the bass, keyboard, Theremin, vibraphone, percussion and beat box, and you’ll know why he has rightfully earned the title “the one-man jam band.”
But back in the studio, Williams has decided to take the opposite route and lose the “one man.” He has been working on the new studio record for the past few years with an all-star roster of guest musicians.
“I’m working with folks all around the country,” Williams says about going from New York City to record with Charlie Hunter to cruising out west to California to record with Bob Weir.
Other musicians who have contributed to Williams’ project are Steve Kimock, Martin Sexton, Victor Wooten, Modereko and The String Cheese Incident but it was Williams’s sessions with flat-picking guitarist Larry Keel and his upright bass-playing wife, Jenny, who helped the project go beyond initial plans and become an entirely different album.
“I originally just wanted to include them on like one or two songs on this new record I’ve been working on,” Williams says. “Instead of doing a couple of songs, we did 10.” The result is Grass, released earlier this month. This atypical bluegrass album features Williams on the mini 12-string.
“It’s kind of like putting a capo on the seventh fret of a regular guitar,” he says. “I took [the top] four strings off to make it more mandolinesque.” That’s right — mandolinesque.
Of the 10 songs on Grass, only three are originals. The seven covers on the album include Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” The Grateful Dead’s “Loser” and “Dupree’s Diamond Blues,” and even a fusion of two Tom Petty songs, “Mary Jane’s Last Breakdown.”
Williams and The Keels even interpret a song called “New Horizons” originally done by good friends of Williams, the Yonder Mountain String Band. Larry Keel shows his flat-picking chops on the song in a lightning-fast guitar solo.
The three original songs add the perfect amount of Williams’ flavor to Grass. “Goof Balls,” the album opener, is a humorous tale of late-night drives “hepped up on goof balls” complete with outlandish lyrics such as “rockin’ it and never stoppin’ it/just Captain Kirk and Spockin’ it” and “Alfalfa and Spanky all dressed up lookin’ swanky/hallucinating on the back of a diesel mac.”
“I like to stay on the more lighter side of things,” Williams says about his lyrics.
“Crater in the Backyard” is an upbeat song that finds Williams contemplating what to do about the “big-ass hole in the backyard” — build a pool, bar or gas station, or pave it for skating.
A bluegrass album was something Williams wanted to do for a while, but he says he’s going to concentrate more energy on his other record now that Grass has been released. The songs he has recorded so far have already become concert staples and fan favorites.
“I don’t really have the patience to have a song I’ve written and not play it live,” Williams says. The recorded songs include new songs such as “Slow-Mo Balloon” and “Ninja,” plus old live classics including “Celebrate Your Youth” and “Kiwi and the Apricot.” Williams says he hopes to have the album out by this fall.
Another idea brewing in Williams’s brain is Grateful Grass, a Grateful Dead bluegrass project he’s been thinking about for a long time. Williams mentioned “Attics of My Life” and “Terrapin Station” when asked what particular Dead songs he wants to play. “There’s millions,” he says. Williams expects Grateful Grass to resurface at festivals where all three musicians will be playing.
Williams plays at Ram’s Head Live! in Baltimore at 10 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $17.50 in advance and $19.50 the day of the show, plus $3 if you’re under 21.
Contact reporter Marc Shapiro at email@example.com.