Musical give and take with Keller Williams |

Musical give and take with Keller Williams

Caramie Schnell
Special to the Daily/C. Taylor Crothers

What do the Butthole Surfers and Marcy Playground have in common, other than sub-par band names?

They have Keller Williams in common. Though their music is very different from his own, Williams chose to cover songs by them on his newest album, “Thief.” On the album, he plays unconventional bluegrass covers from a diverse set of musicians – Grateful Dead, Amy Winehouse, The Raconteurs, Ryan Adams, Cracker and others. The title of the CD alone proves that Williams has a sharp sense of humor (on that same note, Williams’ recently released children’s book is called “Because I Said So”), along with far-reaching musical tastes.

The CD, Williams’ 15th to date, is a collaboration with The Keels –husband-wife duo Jenny and Larry Keel -who Williams worked with in 2006 for the album “Grass.” Keller and The Keels will both perform at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek tonight. The first set will be all three musicians – Williams will perform solo for the second set.

Williams calls himself a “music lover first, a musician second and a songwriter third,” which is why an album of covers was a natural progression for him.

“I go out and do about 120 shows a year and I just can’t write enough to play new songs all the time,” he said. “Just flipping around on the radio, next thing you know you’ve got a song stuck in your head. If you change it around and play it completely differently, it sounds like a whole new song.”

Indeed it does. Williams’ much slower version of “Pepper” (Butthole Surfers) is a countrified, melodic version of the original that would be virtually unrecognizable if not for the telltale lyrics. Kris Kristofferson’s “Don’t Cuss The Fiddle,” and “The Year 2003 Minus 25” are both brilliant and the Dead’s “Mountains of the Moon” is another album highlight.

Anyone who’s seen Williams in concert knows why he’s oft-referred to as a “one-man band.” He sings, plays the guitar and uses a Gibson Echoplex delay system to simulate a full band.

“You wouldn’t believe it if you weren’t seeing it with your own eyes,” said Edwards resident Jessie Williams, who has seen him perform many times. “He works with a lot of looping during many songs, so he’ll play a riff, record it and then set it to loop. Then he’ll grab a different instrument, lay down a track on top of that and keep looping it until he has the sound of a whole band, then start singing on top of it all, or while he’s laying down the base tracks. His mastery of the different instruments and especially the looping device are pretty astounding.”

One thing is for sure, Williams is having fun on stage.

“He’s always barefoot, dancing around and bobbing his head to his own music, just looking like he’s having such a great time playing for his audience,” Jessie said. “Too many musicians get up on stage and look like they’re concentrating too hard on what they’re doing, with a very stiff result – he’s the exact opposite and makes it look like such a pleasure to him that you feel very connected to the music, as if you were sitting in his living room with him, enjoying a private concert.”

Denver resident Karli Rowe got into Williams’ music around 10 years ago when she was living in Houston, Texas.

“I had just gotten into String Cheese Incident and they promote him a lot,” she said.

His stage presence impressed Rowe.

“He’s very fun to watch on stage, his hair is everywhere,” she said. “And I like that he gets people dancing. His funky grooves get people to dance, to get their booties shaking.”

Night after night, Williams expels more energy that most people use in a week. So where does it come from?

“It’s 100 percent adrenaline from the audience,” Williams said. “To be up there solo, and have an audience that has paid to come and see me, that’s my fuel. It’s a circular thing. They give it to me and I give it back and it goes around.”

Though Williams’ has been around for upwards of 20 years, he’s never lost sight of why he’s there – the love of music.

“I love what I do,” he said during a recent phone interview. “I love music. I love making people dance and sing along and bang on the stage. I’m grateful to be able to do what I do and that alone helps me play three-hour shows, with a 30-minute break, of course.”

Williams cites a long list of musical influences – everyone from The Cure and the Sex Pistols, to Grateful Dead and Bela Fleck. The opposite of his Americana organic music is the perfect, digital, computerized beats prevalent in electronica music and DJ culture. Williams has recently started to incorporate elements from both into his music, albeit in “tiny increments.”

“There’s something about it I just love,” he said. “One thing that can’t be denied is the energy at these festivals between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. where electronica is obviously dominating. A lot of people who like my music, probably don’t like that music, but I’m one of those opposites attracts sort of guys.”

That is for certain.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

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