There are so many different iterations of Keller Williams’ musical brilliance, it seems as though he may have one of the most productive cases of ADHD on the planet. Our conversation about his Cincinnati appearance this weekend took place on the eve of two big Colorado shows for Williams, one a co-bill with Leo Kottke in Boulder and another with Grateful Grass, his Grateful-Dead-translated-to-Bluegrass outfit, in Breckenridge, a small representation of his range and musical restlessness.
“It hasn’t been diagnosed as such, and my wife doesn’t necessarily want to get it diagnosed, because whatever it is, it’s working,” says Williams with a laugh about his possible ADHD. “I’m able to play in so many projects with so many people because I’m allowed to do this. If the people stopped coming to see me or the promoters stopped having me, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I push the envelope a little bit — ‘What if I did this?’ or ‘Next year, what if I bring that?’ It’s kind of like inching to see if it takes. Sometimes it takes, sometimes it doesn’t, but what it does offer is not the same thing as last time.”
The inevitable byproduct of Williams’ almost pathological need to make music with everyone he knows or meets becomes apparent when the subject of which one of his tuneful alter egos will be appearing in Cincinnati. At first, he thinks it might be his relatively new Soul/Funk group More Than a Little, but when told that it’s an outdoor gig, he determines that it must be a solo show.
“I’m really going to have to learn to memorize my calendar,” a bemused Williams says.
The immediate response is, “How would that even be possible?” In addition to the aforementioned outlets, Williams performs and records as Keller & the Keels, Keller Williams with the Travelin’ McCourys, Grateful Gospel, Keller Williams Trio, WMD’s (his largely inactive Fusion/Rock group with Keith Moseley, Jeff Sipe and Gibb Droll) and his newest aggregation, The Keller Williams Wahtro (with Droll, Danton Boller and Rodney Holmes).
It’s astonishing that Williams can remember how many different groups he’s playing with, let alone when and where they’ll be meeting.
But even with all of the incredible music that Williams makes with an overflowing address book of talented friends, the sounds he makes on his own may be the most compelling and heartfelt of all.
He defines it as ADM — Acoustic Dance Music — and further subcategorizes it as Electro-Hippie Acoustic Downtempo, which reinforces the impossibility of accurately placing Williams in a tangible pigeonhole. Most importantly, it’s made entirely by Williams in the moment with the use of looping technology and without prerecorded samples.
Williams’ current solo set features a lot of songs from his last album, 2015’s sublime Vape, but with almost two-dozen albums and an encyclopedic archive of covers to draw upon, he has plenty of material to consider when he constructs his setlists. Considering the intricacies of using looping in a live setting, knowing what he’s going to play beforehand is critical for Williams.
“I absolutely come up with a set list,” he says. “What I try to do, if I’m playing the same place around the same time of year, I’ll study those setlists from the year before and try not to play any of those. It’s just sort of a process of elimination. I’ve also been getting into a habit — some would say a rut — in the sense of festival sets, bringing what I think is the A-game, the songs that will go over the (best), not only to the people who see me all the time, but the people who are seeing me for the first time. So some of the festivals get the same kind of set. It seems to work; it took me 20 years to come off my high and mighty throne of trying to play a completely different set every night. It will be different in the sense that they won’t be in the same order, and some might be done completely different, like one night it might be a Reggae thing, the next night it might be a Bluegrass thing, just because I get bored. So there’s probably a little too much effort that goes into setlists, to answer your question.”
Williams’ latest recorded endeavor is actually a fundraiser for a friend. Singer/songwriter Tim Bluhm, frontman for The Mother Hips, recently shattered his ankle while paragliding (the break was severe enough that amputation was and is still being considered as a viable option).
In order to help offset Bluhm’s extensive medial expenses, Williams recorded five of Bluhm’s songs for an EP, which he’ll be selling as a $5 download in the very near future (check his website at kellerwilliams.net or his Facebook page for details).
Renowned San Francisco photographer Jay Blakesberg organized a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $45,000; proceeds from Williams’ EP will help with Bluhm’s remaining bills.
About the EP, Williams says, “Guests include Jackie Greene on vocals, dobro and banjitar, which is a six-string banjo, and Reed Mathis on bass, Jason Crosby on fiddle on one tune, and Larry and Jenny Keel, my old buddies from the Keels. We did two songs, but we only used one. We’re going to save that other song as an excuse to make a whole other record.”
As Williams goes over the many entries on his immediate calendar, he conversely attempts to visualize what stepping onto a standard musical treadmill would be for him, and he envisions a strange outcome.
“I couldn’t imagine doing one thing. I don’t know what would happen. Probably some nakedness,” he says. “I doubt it would surprise anyone, but my mom would be devastated.”
KELLER WILLIAMS performs Saturday at the free Paradise on the Point festival at Sawyer Point. More info: facebook.com/essentialproductions1.