Published on December 7th, 2012 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Keller Williams Aims for Funk, Folk, and More at the Pour House
Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumental string master Keller Williams returns to the Pour House this weekend for two nights of groove-based jams, sophisticated collaborations, and intimate solo sets.
The Virginia-born/Colorado-based Williams is known best for his dexterity on 6- and 12-string guitars in various bluegrass/folk settings, but he enjoys branching into reggae, soul, funk, jazz, and gospel realms as well.
Last December, he issued a spaced-out funk/reggae collection titled Bass on which he played electric bass guitar with Kdubalicious, a side project threesome featuring Jay Starling on keyboards and Mark D on drums. He switched gears this year when he teamed up with acclaimed Nashville bluegrass group the Travelin’ McCourys (featuring the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury). Williams and the McCourys recently released Pick, an upbeat, 12-song collection of new originals and folk/Americana renditions.
Williams takes the Pour House stage on Fri. Dec. 7 with More Than a Little, a six-piece old-school funk/R&B ensemble from Fredericksburg, Virginia. The lineup includes bassist Edward “EJ” Shaw, keyboardist Gerard Johnson, drummer Toby Fairchild, and vocalists Tonya Lazenby Jackson and Fran “Sugah” Davis. Williams will headline an additional solo “loop show” on Sat. Dec. 8.
Metronome Charleston chatted with the singer/guitarist this week:
Metronome: You’ve frequently performed in Charleston over the last 15 years or so, and it seems like you always show up with a wild new set of material, especially during two nighters like this weekend.
Keller Williams: The last time, one night was all requests and the next was a solo set. This time, the first night will feature my six-piece soul/funk band, and I’m really looking forward to that. The second night will be a normal solo/looping set.
Metronome: Is the main idea to continually expand your musical vocabulary and create situations where you cow can now play a reggae-styled tune and follow it up with a gospel or funk or folk tune?
Keller Williams: Yeah, that’s kind of what I live for; to bring different musical world into mind. It’s never a stretch, you know? It’s always something that I’m into. It’s always something that I’m feeling. It’s slightly self-indulgent, but it’s very important for me to do things like this. I love the human interaction, especially with this group. It’s a whole different world. There’s a whole different formula to the R&B they work with.
Metronome: Performing with a full funk band must be a bit different from picking with the Travelin’ McCourys, which seems to be more within your usual style.
Keller Williams: It’s always such an incredible joy to be able to play with those folks in the Travelin’ McCourys. Our schedules are always so busy that we don’t get to play together as much as we like. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like it to, but when it does, it’s really really special.
Metronome: Pick has its sorrowful/mournful side, but most of the album is surprisingly positive and upbeat. It seems like the mood of the songs reflected the mode of the players quite well.
Keller Williams: Right. The bluegrass world has a simplicity that really turns me on. There’s an acoustic simplicity where a show could happen anywhere — in a parking lot or on a porch, if it needed to. And it can be good. That’s a really beautiful thing about bluegrass. There are some really simple things on that record, but there are some things that the McCoureys grabbed on to and really made their own. They listed to choruses and came up with musical heads. It was really brilliance in action watching those guys work on songs. It was very cool.
Metronome: With five or six guys in a funk-based situation, do you feel out of your element and uncomfortable at all, or does it feel as natural as other projects you’ve explored?
Keller Williams: All of the projects that I’ve brought out came from a big part of my brain. The only stumbling block is the fact that a lot of people know me as a solo looping artist, and I think problem come up when they attend shows expecting a certain thing. It’s made me realize that the core group of folks who support me and show up at shows every year are the most important thing. As self-indulgent as a I get with these projects, it’s important for me to stay true to them and what they like. There’s always that in my show — or at least I try to stay pretty true to what the hardcore fans are into and expecting.
Metronome: Not all touring acts can say that the majority of their fans are so trusting, but your fans seem to trust that you’ll be proficient and creative on stage. On the other hand, you have to trust that they be at least a little bit open-minded about new material and experiments.
Keller Williams: I’m very grateful to have an open-mined audience for sure. I never try to stick to just one thing. I think it would be fine if I just went out solo and did what I usually do, but I need more in my world to keep me entertained. And these band gigs help me appreciate what I do solo, and vice-versa. Playing solo so much makes you want to have human interaction on stage with bands as well. Each side helps the other out a little bit.
Keller Williams shares the Pour House stage with More Than a Little at 8:30 p.m. on Fri. Dec. 7, and he performs a solo show at the venue at 8:30 p.m. on Sat. Dec. 8. Advance tickets are available for both nights for $40, or $25 each night. Visit kellerwilliams.net and charlestonpourhouse.com for more.
Photos by C. Taylor Crothers.
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