Keller Williams deploys WMDs to help on his first non-solo tour

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:: Keller Williams :: Fillmore Auditorium :: February 2 ::

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By Timothy Dwenger

For more than 15 years the “One-Man Jamband” known as Keller Williams has been touring the country amazing fans with his intoxicating brand of improvisational rock music.

Though a one-man band, Williams’ stage frequently contains everything from a bass guitar on a stand to a bongo drum or two, several guitars and a piano. Proficient on all these instruments and more, Williams has developed a unique style of performing where he layers and loops these instruments live onstage using a pedal that can record any sound that is played and play it back in a loop allowing him to add other sounds and riffs to it, creating the sonic illusion of a full band. At any given time during a performance there could be as many as 10 or 12 different sounds emanating from the P.A., all perfectly synced and creating a richly textured soundscape for Williams to sing over.


While these solo performances are what have made Williams something of a legend in the jam band scene, he has branched out recently and is now touring with a full rock band made up of some of the best players in the scene. “I’ve always wanted to put together a band like this, but in the beginning I just couldn’t afford to bring the people out that I wanted. I wasn’t making enough money to do that,” Williams said in a recent interview with The Marquee from his home in Virginia. “The reason that this band actually happened was because of timing. Keith Moseley was available and Jeff Sipe was going to be available and I was able to book Gibb Droll way in advance. This is very much a dream-type of ensemble for me. I’ve had an immense amount of respect for each player over the years,” Williams said..

The group, known as the WMDs, has only been active for about eight months and yet Williams is thrilled with the way the band has gelled. “The evolution is happening. It’s amazing, you can listen to the tapes and you can hear each individual listening to the other players and you can hear the songs go in so many different directions that I never imagined. These songs are being played the way I originally intended,” said Williams.
Though he used to heavily favor the acoustic guitar, in this project Williams has been picking up the electric much more often and filling the traditional role of a rhythm guitarist with his non-traditional style. While he still utilizes his trademark looping techniques, they are not the focal point of the show as they used to be due to the presence of the three other musicians onstage.

Also on the electric guitar is New York based, but Winchester, Va.-bred, Gibb Droll. He has been amazing music fans since his first performances back in the early ’90s with his incendiary guitar technique and showmanship. Though he is clearly influenced by legends such as Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Droll has developed his own style and his blues-based riffs are a compliment to William’s rhythmic style of playing.
Backing up these two guitar heroes as the rhythm section are Jeff Sipe on drums and local favorite, bassist Keith Moseley. Sipe cut his teeth playing with Col. Bruce Hampton as a founding member of Aquarium Rescue Unit and has continued his career playing with the likes of Trey Anastasio, Phil Lesh and Leftover Salmon. Williams describes Sipe as a rock behind the kit who is able to provide whatever beat the songs call for. Coupled with the bouncy bass lines that Moseley brings to the mix, this rhythm section is exactly what Williams needs to bring his songs to life.

Moseley was, for nearly 14 years, the bass player for jam staple The String Cheese Incident. When the band went their separate ways this past summer, Moseley found himself looking for another project to focus on and, fortunately, Williams was quick to offer him a gig. “Keith was one of the first guys in String Cheese that I met and we’ve been close for years and even taken our families on vacation together and things like that, so it made sense for him to come on board,” Williams said.

In a way, Williams owes a significant debt to Moseley and his former band since, for years in the mid-’90s, Williams was the de facto opener for The String Cheese Incident and often shared the stage with the band. Moseley and the rest of S.C.I. were instrumental in exposing Williams to a broad audience across the country and Williams is quick to recognize the help that he got from String Cheese. “I was a total fan first and saw them all over Colorado before getting the opportunity to meet them and then to have them turn me on to their audience all over the country. Who’s to say what I would be doing right now without them,” Williams said.

It was clear over the years that the admiration was mutual, as S.C.I. served as Williams’ studio band on his fourth album, Breathe, and invited him to festival after festival throughout their tenure on the scene. The final time that these two musical powers shared the stage was a very special show that served as the culmination of 14 years of performing for The String Cheese Incident. In August of last year, as they prepared to go their separate ways, the band played a four-night run at Red Rocks and, in the spirit of keeping it a “family affair,” invited a lone guest to the stage during the entire run. Emerging midway through the final show, Williams was given center stage and took the reigns for two of his own songs, “Best Feeling” and “Fuel for the Road.” He was welcomed by the fans with open arms and it seemed to be a passing of the torch to many in attendance. “I try not to look too much into it, philosophically,” Williams said. “If I was to go to the philosophical side it was a pretty monumental event for me. To be at the most amazing venue in the world and to be thinking it might be the last time we would play together was a pretty intense moment.”
The sit-in only added fodder to rumors that Williams would replace Bill Nershi in the band. Though the official stance of the band was, and still is, that “there are currently no future plans for The String Cheese Incident,” people could not let it go and Williams’ name was inextricably tied to the band as the “replacement” for Nershi.

As it turns out, this speculation was unfounded and, in fact, Williams said that “the conversation never took place. String Cheese was a very democratic kind of ensemble, where everyone was a leader and everyone kind of either agreed or compromised,” Williams said. “Obviously, people were aware of the Keller Williams Incident shows and just assumed that it would turn around and continue on with me in Billy’s place, which was so far from the truth. Billy was a huge part of that and I don’t think the rest of the band ever thought about continuing on with me in Billy’s place.”

Some of the magic that Keller created with S.C.I. may be rekindled when Williams brings his WMDs project to Denver this month, as Billy Nershi will be handling the opening duties as part of one of his current projects, The Emmitt Nershi Band. “I am hoping that there will be lots of collaboration that night, in both sets. How couldn’t we? We’ll have Drew Emmitt and Bill Nershi there and everyone’s open minded in my group, so I’m thinking there will be some serious sit-ins.”

:: Keller Williams ::
:: Fillmore Auditorium ::
:: February 2 ::

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