Playing in the Band: Keller Williams has an all-star band and a grip on the shrinking jam band scene | Sound Stories & Interviews | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Playing in the Band: Keller Williams has an all-star band and a grip on the shrinking jam band scene 

Oh Keller (third from left) you're so funny.A lot of people originally went to see Keller Williams expressly because the musician didn't have a band behind him. But now, after more than a decade of touring, people are rushing to see him because he does have a band playing with him - rather than the loops and multi-instrumentational wizardry that's built his reputation.

Williams, who's not a single-name diva by any means yet is often referred to by fans on a first-name basis, unveiled the WMDS a couple years back, but has since moved away from the timely acronym (after learning there was another band going by that moniker) opting rather to dish out all the members of the band, calling it Keller Williams with Moseley, Droll and Sipe. That might sound like a law firm to some, but for devoted live music fans, it's much more than a list of names - it's a venerated who's who of improvisational musicians. Keith Moseley played base in the String Cheese Incident, Gibb Droll is as genius of a guitar player as there is on the touring circuit and Jeff Sipe is the percussive powerhouse that once anchored the cult jam band Aquarium Rescue Unit and toured with Leftover Salmon.


Williams has played as a one-man show for most of his career, and will continue to do that as soon as this year, while also keeping his innovative motor revving - and part of that is his soon to be unveiled "Grunge Grass" set. That's right, he's taking '90s rock songs and, as he says, "bluegrassing" them up. But for now, he seems pretty pleased with the musicians he's chosen to share his stage.

"It's a 100 percent total dream all-star lineup, freaky sort of surreal thing," says Williams from his home in Fredericksburg, Va. a week before his West Coast tour.

The combination of Williams with Moseley, Droll and Sipe gives birth to a sound that strays far from the compact jams most Keller fans have held tight for the last decade, but is a showcase of everything that's good about the jam band scene - tight segue ways, light amounts of noodling and attention to melody.

Even five years ago, it would be somewhat strange to praise a band as being "everything that's good" about the jam band scene, but as Keller acknowledges, there's been a shift in this genre. He says the movement has leaned away from the roots and funk that has long been the staple of his solo show, and is the case with the current act, gravitating more toward electronic sounds and catering to a more late-night crowd. And now more than 13 years since Jerry passed on, the demand for jam bands has definitely shrunk as Deadheads continue to age and younger music fans are drawn in different directions. But that said, Williams says the jam band scene isn't going to disappear any time soon.

"I don't think this scene is going to get much bigger, but I hope that it's going to continue to be supportive to the point that people can go around the country and play cool music," Williams says. This is coming from a man whose one-man jam band act was cultivated in the heyday of the jam band scene and spent his youth playing everywhere and anywhere he could get a gig, which eventually led him to the String Cheese Incident opening gigs largely responsible for launching his career.

"At that time, I was pretty much just focusing on one word only and that was 'exposure.' I didn't really know if I'd get anywhere with it, all I could do was try," says Williams.

I ask what single word would describe the current state of his career and the line goes silent. I try to let him off the hook. "Naa don't worry about it, I put you on the spot," I say, but Williams keeps thinking for a good 20 seconds. And in the end, he says he can't come up an all-encompassing word in which to wrap his current state.

And this is all understandable. He's a one-man band playing in a four-man all-star act in what he admits are changing times for music. That's a lot to cram into one word.


Keller Williams with Moseley, Droll and Sipe

8pm doors, 9pm show. Wednesday, November 12. Midtown Ballroom, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $20/advance, $25/door. All ages. Tickets at Ranch Records and Ticketswest.com.

 

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