From the Songbook of a Family Man
Breaking into the Kids Scene with Keller Williams
Words by Audra Tracy
If you’ve ever seen a Keller Williams concert, you’d know that he is one goofy dude. He’s a one-man band who zips around stage like the Tasmanian Devil, conjuring up a groove one instrument at a time. He writes quirky songs, performs barefoot, and has no qualms about playing acoustic covers of songs by Amy Winehouse, Snoop Dogg, or Nelly. If he’s that much of a spaz when performing for adults, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine Keller captivating kids as well.
With his 16th album, Kids, Keller Williams has penned a children’s record of new American nursery rhymes for a generation of party animals in training. We chatted with the guitar virtuoso and jam personality on touring with ‘Yo Gabba Gabba Live’, listening to Furthur, and what musical genre he’ll never cover.
While Kids features songs about hula-hooping, cruising in car seats, and picking your nose, this latest album still incorporates all the things adults love about Keller. You’ll find his signature looping (‘Hula Hoop to Da Loop’), free-styling (‘Horseback Rider’), and silly songwriting (‘Mama Tooted’), along with some adorable banter between Keller and his young daughter, who sings on several of the tracks. “It was really a breeze for her”, Keller says of his gifted offspring. “When we went into the studio she nailed it.”
Inspired by Not For Kids Only, the record by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, the goal of Kids is to give parents a reprieve the from the Disney Channel musicals and Justin Beibers of the world. “I have kids of my own, and sometimes there’s music that kids love, that I don’t necessarily love”, Keller explains. “And I was trying to bridge that gap, trying to connect to the kids while having the parents enjoy it as well.”
To promote Kids, Keller will join the whacked world of robots, cyclops, and cat-dragons featured in the Nick Jr. children’s show ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’. For those uninitiated, ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ is the ‘Teletubbies’ of 2010 – adored by children and just surreal enough to pique the interest of adults.
Weezer, The Roots, and Cold War Kids have already made guest appearances on ‘Yo Gabba Gabba Live’, and now Keller will join the fun for a few live performances throughout the Pacific Northwest this November. “I’m doing 11 Yo Gabba Gabba shows – I’m part of the Super Music Friends segment”, he shares. “My kids will be coming along with me – how could I not bring my kids?”
– Keller Williams
Kids may be his latest trick, but the Virginia native has several other projects up his sleeve. This New Year’s Eve he’ll play a three-set show for big kids at the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina. “One is a dub-funk thing where I’m playing bass, Jay Sterling is on keys, and Mark D is on drums”, Keller describes. “The second set will be Keller and the Keels playing bluegrass, and the third set will be the dance party thing that I do”, he says. “There’s room to grow right now as far as playing with other people”, he continues, “but I’m definitely most comfortable playing by myself, because that’s what I do the most.”
Keller’s one-man band approach caught the attention of Colorado jam royalty The String Cheese Incident back in the 90s, and with their support, Keller climbed the ladder from bar gigs to regular slots at festivals including Bonnaroo, All Good, and Jam Cruise. What makes his solo shows so thrilling is not only his infectious charisma, but also his ability to play such a wide variety of instruments.
“I do have a new toy, it’ really cool, it’s called a computer“, he quips. “I just dove into it recently, and it’s definitely not prominent in my show. My shows are really organic, and I create all the samples live onstage, but lately, the past five-to-six shows or so there has been a four-to-five minute segment where I’ll bust some crazy moves with the laptop.”
When he’s not wowing audiences young and old, Keller keeps up with his jamband peers. “Today I listened to the Furthur show from the All Good Music Festival”, he says. “It’s no secret that I’ve always had a fascination with the Dead – I listened to them so much growing up, just studied it, lived it. Today was the first time in a long time that I’ve actually listened to something recent from that world. The Furthur thing is definitely streamlining to the Grateful Dead, and today I got re-turned on – it’s fantastic.”
From dance parties to bluegrass to nursery rhymes, Keller Williams runs the gamut of musical exploration. So is there anything that he considers off-limits? “Opera”, he whole-heartedly answers. “I’d probably never cover any opera, and I don’t particularly like contemporary country music. But anything else is fair game I think.”
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