Onstage, Keller Williams is as much a feast for the eyes as the ears. Literally bounding across the stage, the singer/multi-instrumentalist constructs his songs on a looping station, redefining the concept of a one-man band. A staple on the jamband scene for nearly 20 years, Williams will return to Birmingham on Friday, May 10 with a performance at Workplay. Recently, we caught up with Williams by phone from his home in Virginia.
Brent Thompson: Keller, thanks for your time. When we last spoke, you were home during the weekdays and out on the weekends. Is that still your touring pattern?
Keller Williams: That is still very much my pattern indeed. I’m very lucky to be able to pull that off and I know that. A lot of folks can’t do that, especially with a group. To be able to pull off the weekends is luxurious.
BT: We are enjoying your CD of Grateful Dead covers, Keys [released earlier this year]. Given the band’s large catalog of songs, how did you select the material for the album?
KW: It kind of came about once I had a piano in my house. I would sit down and these Jerry [Garcia] songs would come out and I would turn them into these George Winston-esque type ballads. These songs started to appear. Some of them I’ve played on the guitar and others came out – like “Wharf Rat” and “Terrapin Station” – while I was on the piano. Sometimes I wish original songs would come out [laughs], but instead I play Jerry songs.
BT: When you’re interpreting the Dead’s songs, is there a challenge in retaining the integrity of the original versions while placing your own stamp on the music?
KW: That falls into the line, “You can’t please everybody all the time” type of thing. I’m sure there are folks that don’t like it because it’s unlike the original, but at the same time it’s my own take and the integrity is there for the love I have for the music. I think that comes through – at least I hope it does.
BT: How do you feel about the accessibility of vehicles such as iTunes and Youtube versus the oversaturation and clutter these outlets can foster?
KW: I think it’s oversaturation or clutter if you look at it that way and you’re trying to find something and get a bunch of other things. Other than that, I think it’s a brilliant, beautiful time to be a music lover with everything completely accessible. I was asked the other day at a radio station how I listen to music – do I put on a record, a CD or go digital? I was surprised that my answer was, “I always reach for my phone.” I have Rhapsody, Youtube and the Internet right there on my phone and I’m constantly seeking out soundclouds from different folks. Anytime I want to dial anything up, I’m able to dial it up. I’m a lover and a believer and very excited to be alive at this time.
Tickets to the 9 p.m. show are $20 and can be purchased at www.workplay.com