Keller Wiliams: He’s Got The Funk
With Keller Williams’ inexhaustible muse and self-proclaimed creative ADD, he’s now moved on to the funky stuff with his latest musical venture, More Than A Little. Explaining the interest in this genre he said, “It’s prominent in my love of music. It’s like breathing. It just happens naturally without me thinking about it.”
Selecting 10 tracks from several More Than A Little dates, the recently-released Funk includes four originals as well as covers of the Grateful Dead (“West L.A. Fadeaway”) and Rick James (“Mary Jane”). Keller and his five-piece outfit also play a revised version of “Hey Ho Jorge,” which was on his 2011 reggae-infused release, Bass.
I catch him as he’s driving himself to a gig in West Virginia, the start of another slate of dates to close out 2013. The shows place him in numerous combinations – solo as well as with The Travelin’ McCourys, with His Compadres (Michael Kang and Michael Travis of the String Cheese Incident, Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon), with Tim and Nicki Bluhm and then Grateful Grass (Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band and Keith Moseley of The String Cheese Incident) for the Rex Foundation Annual Benefit.
And although he’s been without the companionship of a dog, he remains a friend to man’s best friend by performing his 13th annual benefit for the Fredericksburg (Virginia) Regional SPCA. This year he’s joined during that night’s second set by Steve Kimock and John Morgan Kimock.
When I mention how my wife regularly sends hints about getting another dog to join our Golden Doodle Owsley, he admitted, “My wife’s all about it right now too because it’s been a long time since our dogs have been gone and the kids are getting older and she’s definitely getting closer to having one again.”
Bringing it altogether he rings out the old and brings in the new on Dec. 31 with a bash that finds him playing solo, alongside The Keels and finally fronting More Than A Little.
When January arrives, he returns fulltime to the soulful sounds of More Than A Little as the members travel across America on a full-scale, two-month What the Funk tour.
Once the cellphone connection got stronger the conversation easily flowed from life on the road to opening the Lockn’ festival and, of course, putting together a Keller-styled funk album and getting used to the idea of playing in a band.
JPG: I’m looking at the dates on your website. Is this the beginning of your next tour or…
KW: Nah, it’s all just one long run. I go out on the weekends and come home during the week. It goes on…
JPG: I remember years ago when I reviewed your DVD Stage, there was footage of you riding around in a RV so you could have a little more freedom when travelling. Are you still doing that?
KW: No, I just go out on the weekends. We usually fly and rent minivans. This week I’m actually in my own truck and driving. We’re doing shows in West Virginia and then home. So, this is a lucky weekend because we get to actually drive.
JPG: The other reason is I looked over the schedule and you jump from Charleston, South Carolina to California. I take it you’re flying?
JPG: Okay. I saw that there was a four-day break so I thought it was possible to drive but…I’m sure you’ve done the cross-country trek numerous times.
KW: We used to plan six week tours of the southern trip across the country. Then, go from San Diego to Seattle and then have a northern route back home. We’d do that in six weeks. That was probably the late ‘90s.
JPG: I always hope for artists that do that to plan something fun or diverting to do along the way, just for a reason to stop and enjoy themselves and get on the ground for a little bit rather than just ride, gig, ride, gig, ride, gig. I just feel bad that they’re cooped up all that time, even if it’s in a luxury bus.
KW: I call those luxury problems. The folks that get to do that — play music for a living — it’s pretty much the reward in itself. And if you can make it to get and see something that’s great, but if not you’re still…I feel very lucky to be able to do it.
JPG: Speaking of playing shows not too far from your home, I was there when you appeared at the Lockn’ Festival where Jason Hann and Kyle Hollingsworth stole your thunder by coming onstage before you. Were you and the Keels just running late that they came out just to vamp a bit or…?
KW: No, no…we were actually on time. We were, I think, it was right to the minute that we came onstage, right when we were supposed to. I think that they were bored and…they wanted to…I don’t know. There was no real microphone or anything like that. They just kinda went out and played. Kind of interesting. Yeah.
JPG: It was sort of a hometown gig in a way for you at a big festival’s inaugural year. How does it feel to be the opener for an event like that?
KW: Oh, it’s huge. It’s huge. This festival definitely has legs and I think it’s gonna live for a long time. I was really very quite honored to be the first one on the bill, even though out of the 24,000 people that came, maybe I got a thousand of those because the gridlocking was in full effect during my set. There was lots of drama getting into the festival as far as having to go the wrong way down the other way to pass everyone to get in, and I think The Keels even had to go through some fields in their car. Had to do some four-wheel drive, off road.
JPG: Were you able to stick around for Furthur’s sets?
KW: No. We left. I had to play another show the next day somewhere in some other time zone.
JPG: That’s too bad. They were so completely consistently good all three nights. I’m bummed that shortly afterwards came the announcement that they’re taking 2014 off.
KW: Quit while you’re ahead, you know? Not that they’re quitting, but kind of like leave at a high note when it’s good. Leave a good taste in your mouth.