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Fuel for the Road: The Keller Williams Interview

Over the past few years, Keller Williams has fostered a reputation as one of the most talented, energetic, and dynamic solo acts in this or any scene. It is not every day that someone can witness a performer who has the personality, creativity, and even impeccable juggling skills that Keller does. After a one-hour set at the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, this reviewer was hooked beyond belief.

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Keller Williams at the Khyber Pass in Philadelphia. Here is what he tells the world; from what he grooves to and how he loops, and the glue the binds it all together.

(Hi, Lou!)

ELG: Recently, you have been working with The String Cheese Incident; performing with them and whatnot. How did this come about?

KW: In ’95, I saw them perform in a basement somewhere in Telluride, right after one of those Bluegrass festivals. I was a fan, and saw them a few times before actually getting to know them. They needed an easy opener, so I went on tour with them a few times doing opening acts. And then, we wound up doing a record together. (Breathe, 1999).

ELG: What was it like to record Breathe?

KW: It was a dream, really. Everyone told me that we weren’t going to get it done in time. We had a lot of time (laughs) – ten days. But we did get it done. I sent them tapes of songs that I wanted, and they listened to them. They didn’t really learn them, they just listened to them; and we went in and recorded it and it was done.

ELG: It has been said that Michael Hedges has been a tremendous influence on you…

KW: Oh yes. When I first heard his music, I was in college in 1988. And his music was so amazing, I just could not believe what I was hearing. The first time I saw him, I was in awe. I got all his records, started collecting some bootlegs – and that was hard because he was not very pro-taping. He was just such a tremendous influence. He gave me inspiration to pursue the solo thing. I was playing before I’d heard of him, but he definitely changed my perspective of the genre of solo entertainment.

ELG: You must have some sort of knowledge by now that the ‘jamband scene’ is catching on to you. Are you aware of your growing support?

KW: Kinda. I’m aware that the attendance has been slowly getting larger. Slowly, not by any massive amounts or anything. But the one thing I have noticed is that for the first 25 minutes of the set people get quiet. I’ve played in a number of talkative bars, and I’ve noticed that people have been quiet and listening. So I’m really getting into that.

ELG: I’m quite curious as to how the song “Kidney in a Cooler” came about.

KW: That’s a true story! This happened exactly the way it happened in the song. It was right before Summer Sessions started, and we had the day off. We were traveling on Interstate-80, I think, which goes right through Wyoming. And if you ever go through Wyoming, you’ll see the big billboards for Little America. And it’s a big truckstop. There’s one in Wyoming, one in Cheyenne, and one in Flagstaff. And all of them have 24-hour road services, usually for truckers. And we had a break in the schedule and we also had a sufficient coolant leak. We definitely needed to fix it because it was summertime, and we couldn’t have this all leaking, it’s super toxic. So we couldn’t really go and wait at a garage somewhere, and we had this guy fix it, at the 24-hour truck stop. He took his time, and 27 hours later, we rolled out of there. Two days later on the way down, we broke down, and got towed to a town called Perry. It was in Oklahoma, just like the song says. And this woman, a volunteer, was delivering a kidney to Oklahoma City, and she was broken down. I could just imagine those surgeons, waiting for her, waiting for this kidney. They told us they couldn’t help us out, because they had to help out this woman. So we were there for a couple of days. We missed the Dallas show, and the first show of Summer Sessions because of this. (laughs) I’ve always wanted a tourbus. A big old thing, that you can hit golfballs off the roof. Something like that. It’s pretty much a true story.

ELG: I think you’ve probably figured out by now that “Boob Job” gets a big rise out of people at your shows. Is David Wilcox (author of said song) another big influence on you?

KW: He’s not as big as other folks, but yes. I went to see him on a whim at Steamboat, Colorado. I bought that album that he was promoting – East Asheville Hardware – and I think that’s a great album. It’s a super, super record, and it’s a great representation of his live show.

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