Freekers flock to the Fillmore
One of the most basic and vital pieces of advice teachers of art – from painting and photography to poetry and music – profess to their students involves a familiar subject of which teachers will say, “Make it new.”
Keller Williams continually accomplishes this with his favorite old subject: the guitar. Williams, who began his career on the restaurant circuit of his hometown of Fredericksburg, Va., has developed into one of the most diverse and energetic one-man bands in the country. He uses an Allen and Heath 16-channel mixer and a Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro looper to record and loop his live music, which stems from a slew of guitars, a Fender jazz bass, a Charlie Hunter-style eight-string, a number of tubes of different tones, a self-taught “mouth flugel” and his voice.
Williams plays his first show at the Fillmore Saturday in Denver with Martin Sexton.
Williams and Sexton have grown into cornerstones of the independent touring scene. They’ve played together once before and the one-night collaboration of Williams’ giddy and masterful guitar work and Sexton’s rich and versatile voice is guaranteed to spread slap-happy poignancy.
Williams made himself available interview with the Vail Daily during his current 30-show tour:
What have you been working on lately?
“I have been working on a double live album. It was recorded in the spring and the fall of 2003, and it is called ‘Stage.’ And it should be out hopefully in the summer.”
Can you give a couple of examples of some of the venues you played for the album?
“Sure. Well, the record’s called ‘Stage’ and it has two records, so it’s ‘Stage Left,’ which is West Coast and ‘Stage Right,’ which is, of course, the East (Coast). ‘Stage Left’ is 99 percent at San Luis Obispo at Cal Poly at a small – I think 500-capacity – theater on campus there. And there’s another song from San Diego on that record. And then on the other side, ‘Stage Right,’ there’s about five different venues like New York City, Philadelphia, D.C., Boston, Troy, New York, and Connecticut … I guess that’s seven … I don’t know … a handful.”
How do you go about and how do you keep that energy that you need to put on a one-man show, especially for a two-set show? How do you do that?
“A lot of it is generated from the audience and given back to me. It’s kind of a circular thing.”
The show that I’m going to be previewing is your show at the Fillmore, and you’ll be playing with Martin Sexton there, and I saw you guys at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Was that the first time you guys played together?
“Yes, we had met a couple times before that, but that was the first time we actually played together. There wasn’t any rehearsal. It was pretty much due to the fact that I am a just an enormous Martin Sexton fan. You know, I have all his albums, I cite him as an inspiration. So I know a bunch of his songs, and it was really easy to say, ‘Come sit in with me on one of the songs you’ve written.’ So it was really easy for him too. And it was a very exciting moment for me to be able to do that. And I was just sitting on the side of the stage at his set, and he kind of caught me off guard and called me up, and that was a lot of fun too.”
So you did some ski bumming for a while?
“I did indeed. I lived in Steamboat from ’95 to ’97. I was playing six nights a week in Steamboat Valley and over in Summit County. I did that pretty steady for a couple years.”
So you have toured with a ton of people. Recently, you toured with Michael Franti and Spearhead in Europe. How was that?
“Oh it was amazing. It was very inspiring to be able to hang out and see Spearhead every night and we definitely made a point to go out and watch the band every night, too. So, just being in Europe for the first time was a rush in itself. It was kind of like a paid vacation for us. We were able to go sight-see a little bit. Although it definitely cost us a lot of money to do that tour.
See Williams, page B2
We definitely didn’t make any money, but it’s one I’ll never forget because I’ve never played over there before and to be able to play some real rooms in front of audiences was really super-cool of Michael Franti and Spearhead to allow us to come do that. And I’m heavily in their debt.”
Who do you like playing with on tour – who do you think compliments you the best when you play back-to-back?
“Well I’m a music lover first, musician second, so I would say the best things are when I’m doing the opening when I’m playing first and supporting somebody. And I think Bela Fleck and the Flecktones is a really cool mix with me opening, and anyone in the Dead family is always fun for me. You know, I got to play with Phil and Friends and Ratdog and Mickey Hart and that’s super exciting to be able to open for anyone in the Dead family.”
Do you have any humorous stories or anecdotes that haven’t been printed before, which you wouldn’t mind having printed? I know it’s kind of random and general.
“Yes, it’s very random. Maybe some kind of topic could strike a memory or something.”
Well, how about one of the more humorous moments that happened to you on stage that maybe the crowd didn’t know about that you wanted to laugh about, but you didn’t because …
“I got one. Okay, do you have a dog?”
I do have a dog.
“Does your dog ever scratch his butt by sitting down and kind of dragging his butt along? You know what that’s like. Well, I was playing in St. Louis at a place called the Pageant – a really fantastic venue built specifically for musicians. It was an all-ages show, so we had about 2,000 tickets sold; a bunch of people in there. There’s a big wraparound balcony, the sight line is amazing. And I have a song called “Dogs” that I wrote about Earl, my dog now, and my late husky, Sheeba. Every now and then, Earl will make an appearance on stage. He’ll come out and just kind of hang out during the song. This time I brought him out for the encore and I was walking him around as if I was at a dog show. I’d recently seen the movie “Best in Show,” and I got a good feel on how to walk around with the dog as if we were at a dog show. So I was playing the proud owner prancing around showing Earl and he was prancing right with me in the ‘show-dog position.’ And then we walk around and then he just kind of plops right down and starts to do a good 5-foot butt scoot across the carpet on the stage. And the whole place kind of fell out. It wasn’t like a secret and only I saw it. It was like everyone saw it, and it was probably documented on film too. So we gave Earl a little break after that; let him settle and relax and take the stage away from him, so it will be a little more special for him the next time he comes back.”
How do you maintain your passion?
“I keep searching for inspiration. Whether it be through music or films or songwriters or poetry or something like that. And my record collection grows daily. I keep trying to listen to different kinds of music and I allow taping at my shows. So sometimes tapers will bring in some of their favorite stuff that they’ve recorded. And I truly hope that that continues. So being a music lover first, that’s kind of how it happens.”
Who are you listening to right now?
“Ani DiFranco’s new record, ‘Educated Guess.’ She’s the queen of CD packaging. It’s really cool to buy something by her and open it up and look through it for the first time and to see what kind of new concepts she’s looking at and her different ways of getting things across. And the new album is definitely organic – very funky, solo-acoustic type of a record. And her words really read like poetry. And, other than that, for inspiration I’ve been listening to a lot of Fela Kuti. I’ve been in a big African phase. My good friend over at SCI Fidelity Records has equipped me with about a dozen Fela Kuti records. Granted, when Fela Kuti makes a record he’s dealing with an actual record, so it’s like 16 minutes a side and usually the records consist of two songs – one per side about 13 or 14 minutes a piece. So I’ve been really getting into him and his beats and the way he conducted his business when he was alive.”
How about beliefs: You seem to steer clear from political and religious topics within your music?
“I don’t really put a lot of thought into it. I don’t have a certain message, which all kind of boils down to being the music lover first and just kind of doing what I love to do and not really thinking about it. Every now and then there will be some words that I write that you could look at a different way and kind of put a whole different spin on it. So it means different things to different people, which I think is really cool and is the beauty of singer-songwriters.”
Andrew Harley can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext.610, or at email@example.com.