FEATURE: Keller Williams Forms A Feel-Good Band With an Ominous Name

For more than 15 years the “One-Man Jamband” known as Keller Williams has been touring the country amazing fans with his own 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 on stage 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 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 PA all perfectly synched 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 Jamband 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 Listen Up Denver! from his home in Virginia. “Once I was making enough money things were working as a solo act and I didn’t really need it. The reason that this band actually happened was because of timing. Keith Moseley was available and Jeff Sipe was playing with Trey Anastasio and it was looking like he was going to be available and I was able to get Gibb Droll way in advance to where he could actually be available also. 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.”

The group, known as the WMD’S, has only been active for about 8 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.”

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 on stage.

Also on the electric guitar is the New York based, but Virginia bred, Gibb Droll. He has been amazing music fans since his first performances back in the early 90’s with his incendiary guitar technique and showmanship. Though he is clearly influenced by legends such as 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 Keith Moseley on bass. 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 and Phil Lesh. 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 Mosely brings to the mix this rhythm section is exactly what Williams needs to bring his songs to life.

Keith Moseley was, for nearly fourteen years, the bass player for local jam favorites 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. “I was looking to focus on the two guitar bass and drums dynamic. Kind of the rock-n-roll approach,” said Williams. “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.”

In a way Williams owes a significant debt to Moseley and his former band as for years in the mid 90’s Williams was the de facto opener for The String Cheese Incident and often shared the stage with band. Moseley and the rest of SCI were instrumental in exposing Williams to a broad audience across the country and while today he stands on his own legs he 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.”

It was clear over the years that the admiration was mutual as SCI served as Williams’s studio band on his 4th 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. Fans were hoping that the Keller Williams Incident project that surfaced occasionally over the years would make a go of it as a full time touring band.

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 and ever thought about continuing on with me in Billy’s place.”

Some of magic that Keller created with SCI may be rekindled when Williams brings his WMD’S 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. While the project leans heavily in a bluegrass direction, Williams anticipates that the old friends will have plenty of time to get reacquainted musically on the stage. “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.”

Check Out Keller Williams and the WMD’S if You Like:

  • String Cheese Incident
  • moe.
  • Jack Johnson

Who Is Timothy Dwenger

Music has always been a part of my life. It probably all started listening to old Grateful Dead, Peter Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel records that my parents had, but it wasn't long before they were taking me to concerts like Starship, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Huey Lewis & The News. I got the bug to write about music after reviewing an Eric Clapton concert for a creative writing project in high school but didn't really take it up seriously until 2002. Since then I have published countless articles in The Marquee Magazine and done some work for Jambase.com, SPIN Magazine, and various other outlets. I started Listen Up Denver! as a way to share the music information that is constantly spilling out of my head with people who care. Please enjoy!