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Keller Williams' day job
The truth about solo gigs and side projects

By the time you read this, singer, songwriter, guitarist, electronics wizard and chronic collaborator Keller Williams will have just completed a series of Southern dates opening for his buds in Leftover Salmon.

He will have, no doubt, jammed with the band, and maybe even joined them (becoming a temporary Salmonite) for the entire set.

That's what Keller Williams does. He is one of America's most versatile musicians, and whether he's playing with members of the Dead, String Cheese Incident, Phish or the Del McCoury Band, you'd never know he wasn't part of the firmament.

Of course, he's best known for his astonishing solo shows, in which he plays massively percussive guitar and becomes a one-man (jam) band through live looping (ie playing with himself). He's bringing this show back to Live Wire Music Hall Thursday, May 3 (he has a fairly rabid Savannah following).

Released six months ago, Bass is Williams' 13th album. It's typically confounding in that he doesn't play any guitar on the record, only bass, as part of a reggae/funk/jazz trio loosely known as Kdubalicious.

Typically Keller, it's also a breezy, fun record, full of quirks and unexpected sonic delights.

Bass is a trio record, almost a jazz record, with you playing bass guitar. Where did that come from?

Keller Williams: The bass has been a part of my solo show for about a decade now. The original plan was to play with bands, but the solo show started to take off in the late ‘90s so I followed that through. But I'm always trying to get back to the original plan of playing with groups. I've been fortunate to have a couple different side projects that are really cool, but they all involve either me on guitar, or something that is a guitar but I try to make sound like a mandolin, you know? Then there's bluegrass projects and stuff like that.

Once I dove in and actually put together this keyboard trio, with me on bass, something really snapped with me, as far as how incredibly fun playing a bass and leading a band is. From what I've been used to, it's just the power that's behind that instrument,and that sonic goodness that happens with the bass. It's something that makes me very happy. I did the record in hopes that I would be able to do it live more.

I imagine it was nice to be able to say "Well, I'm a pretty well-known guitar player, but if I want to play bass for an entire album, I will."

Keller Williams: Right. There is a certain freedom that comes with my career, but I'm very, very grateful about that. I definitely also keep the people who support me in mind, the folks that listen to the records and come to the shows. I gotta keep them in mind too, and I don't want to throw something at them that they can't hang with. This project, I feel, is still very much me, yet without the guitar. My guitar style, I think, has always rotated around my bass lines. So it's not really that big of a stretch for me to go out and play these songs on bass and sing at the same time. It's easy and fun, and I'm hoping that it's still close to what the people that have been coming to see me for years are expecting.

There's definitely some new songs thrown in the mix, and some new styles, but I think all in all, my intention is that it still stays true to what those folks expect.

When you make this sort of artistic left turn, are you thinking "I'm just gonna do this until I don't feel like it any more"? In other words, is there a plan?

Keller Williams: What it is, it's kind of a side project. I've done the past two years with this group as one of the acts. Usually, the New Year's run is like a three-set show. Last year, I did all three sets in three different projects, but this year it was the solo project and the bass project. Last year, it was the solo project, the bass project and the bluegrass project.
So it's kind of like a specialty thing, in the sense that promoters or festival folks can request any of the projects.
What I consider to be my day job is the solo thing - I think that's what I'll always do. And that's what I'm doing in Savannah.

That's what I do. And the projects are special, and they're few and far between as far as the shows go.

This record definitely opened me up for another project, we're doing at the NedFest in Nederland, Colorado in August. And that is me on bass, Kyle Hollingsworth from String Cheese on keys, Dave Watts on drums and Steve Kimock on guitar. So that's a really exciting project for me that's kind of stemmed from this record. But I don't think it's anything that goes on for months and months; it's more like special weekends for these types of projects.

Like the stuff you do with the McCoury Band?

Keller Williams: Like last weekend I did four shows with the Travelin' McCourys, which was just like a bluegrass vacation. That was so much fun. The week leading up to those shows, my head is totally into bluegrass, and I'm playing bluegrass ... and coming up there'll be a few shows with the bass project, and in the days leading up to that, I'll get into that. So it's kind of like a weekend thing for me. And I'm very grateful to be able to pull that off

Keller Williams

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.

When: At 9 p.m. Thursday, May 3

Tickets: $20 advance, $23 day of show