Singer-songwriter incorporates numerous musical styles into work
Keller Williams is a difficult musician to define.
If you were to put his entire discography on shuffle, each song might sound like it’s coming from a different artist. You’ll hear country, jazz, reggae, R&B, psych rock, folk and funk, as well as a wide array of stylistic influences, from the complicated finger picking of guitarist Michael Hedges to the spacey jams of the Grateful Dead to the lo-fi goof-arounds of ’90s alt rockers Ween.
More proof of Williams’ eclecticism is witnessed in his choice of covers: You can hear his live spin on the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” on his 2004 record “Stage,” and a 2010 album of covers, jokingly titled “Thief,” features his unique take on tunes by everyone from Kris Kristofferson to Amy Winehouse to the Presidents of the United States of America.
“The songwriting comes naturally, and the style gets shaped as I play it live,” Williams said from his home in Fredericksburg, Va. “As far as playing jazz or bluegrass or funk, it just finds its own way into the song.”
Williams is a self-taught musician, and he said the first time he picked up a guitar was when he was 12, and a friend taught him a couple of chords. “By the time I was 16, I was taking those chords I’d learned and was putting them with songs on the radio,” Williams said, “just sitting on a stool playing covers in the corner of bars and coffee shops.”
For the most part, Williams continues to embrace that one-man-band aesthetic, and his live solo performances still feature him alone onstage. That doesn’t mean you’ll only hear one instrument, though: Williams uses looping software and pedals to turn individual guitar riffs, bass lines and drum samples into fleshed-out arrangements. You’re essentially watching him create a song from spare parts.
But that isn’t to say that Williams is a musical loner, as he frequently plays with backing bands, including Colorado jammers the String Cheese Incident. On his most recent release, the live album “Funk,” he’s accompanied by the makeshift R&B ensemble More Than a Little, which was formed after an impromptu jam session. “This group of people joined, and I happened to be there and sat in, and it was really special,” Williams said. “That was a very organic way to get together and it’s really fun.”
That go-with-the-flow spirit applies to Williams’ solo shows, which he refers to as his “day job.” The energy from the crowd helps to shape and define the songs Williams is crafting onstage, and he says his goal as a live performer is to engage both the audience and himself.
“The real reason I’m doing this is for the love of doing it,” he said. “My whole career is a relentless pursuit of entertaining myself.”