After years of crisscrossing the country and "planting seeds," singer/songwriter Keller Williams fan base is beginning to blossom
by Lee Abraham
A 24' motor home rumbles in behind the bar. Tired and a bit scruffy from the long drive, two guys, a musician and his soundman, start loading gear through the club's backdoor. It's a quick job. In half an hour the motor home is on the road again, this time in search of the motel for a shower, food and well earned snooze. No problem. The arrangements were made weeks ago. Once they track down the rooms, itís time to haul a few more bags. The ritual has been performed countless times over the years. These days itís strictly auto-pilot. In, out and refreshed for showtime, the musician blows the crowd away with his uncanny, jaw dropping one man jamband acoustic guitar style. Not to mention his out-of-left-field-yet-totally-on-the-mark lyrics and engaging, humorous, just plain fun personality. After the show, it's back in the motor home for the long haul to the next gig.
"Our basic plan for the past couple of years has been to tour from March to November and hang out around Virginia in December. Then we head down south until March," says Keller Williams, whoís wife also travels with him. The two were married down in the Florida Keys last year. "That'll probably be a yearly thing now. Late January and early February down in the Keys." For Williams, "having a life" while continuing the perpetual grind of relentless touring is the payoff for a lot of hard work.
"I've been planting seeds for a while," he says. Itís an apt description of the Williams game plan. Wherever he travels, people that have experienced his live performances tell their friends. Those friends show up the next timeWilliams comes through town. Word of mouth is his best advertising.And touring is the best way to spread the word. Originally from Virginia, Williams starting playing in bands as a teenager, working his way up from frat party gigs to the college bar circuit along the southeast coast. These days heís nationwide.
"Sometime around '95 or so, I started doing west coast shows," says Williams. "Those seeds haven't grown into anything huge, but they are starting to sprout, things are starting to come together." Some of those -things- started in the Rocky mountains. While touring the country, Williams fell in love with Colorado. At one point, he took up residence in Steamboat Springs. "Iíd snowboard all day and play music at night."
He also made a lot of friends. And when he wasnít playing music, Williams would go see a band called "String Cheese Incident." "The first time I saw them was in Telluride. There was maybe 50-80 people in the crowd," recalls Williams. "I always consider myself a music lover first and a musician second. I just really dug 'em and their sound. I would drive a couple of hours in the summertime to wherever they were playing."
After catching String Cheese four or five times, Williams introduced himself and gave the band his CD. When SCI came through Steamboat he invited them to his gig after their show. "They all came and watched the first set. By the second set they were all onstage. It was great!" Clearly impressed, SCI invited Williams to open a few of their shows. That was '97. Last year, Williams did about 50 gigs with the up and coming Colorado band. The connection has proven to be huge. Arguably the hottest attraction on the touring scene these days, SCI and their legions day-glo hoolahooping fans have fallen in love with this fast pickiní and oh-so-creative singer/songwriter.
"I really look at them as part of my family now," says Williams. The feeling is mutual. The SCI gang backs up Williams on his new CD, "Breathe," which is scheduled for national release in September. The recording sessions were done in May. Prior to that, all the pre-production work was done long distance. "They had tapes and charts of solo acoustic versions of the songs," says Williams. "I asked them to add their own creativity." After one day of actual rehearsal together, Williams and the band hit the studio.
"These guys are so good that it was really pretty easy to run through it a few times and then really lay it down," says Williams. In addition to the tracks featuring the full band, there are also a couple of solo acoustic songs and one where he plays everything. "Bass, two guitars, piano, -and- mouth flugels," he says with a laugh, referring to the patented horn solos he takes... without the benefit of a horn.
Whatever sounds heís making, Williams is having fun. And so are the people that come out to see him play. "I think I'm in a very exciting stage right now," says Williams, now in his late 20s. While every musician has dreams of fame and fortune, for Williams, itís the little things along the never ending road that make it all worthwhile. "Being in a place I've never been before and having people shout out songs for requests. That really makes me feel great!." ###