Virginia musician Keller Williams has a couple feet's worth of toes in a wide variety of musical ponds -- bluegrass, jamband, jazz, folk, to name a few -- and he's just added family music to that list with the release of Kids. Williams chatted by phone last month about Hee Haw, the unplanned appearance of his daughter on the new album, and the relative merits of being a musician versus doing temporary construction work.
Zooglobble: What are your musical memories growing up?
Keller Williams: There are many... the first real musical memory was watching Hee Haw. You know, I get asked that by college papers and I tell them that and they've never heard of it.
Yeah... Twenty-something, it's frustrating trying to explain to them, it had Buck Owens, Roy Clark...
Anyway, by the age of 3, I'd convinced my parents to buy me a guitar. Then it was Kiss -- I used a hockey stick in lieu of an electric guitar. I remember listening to 8-track tapes of John Denver, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Willie Nelson, driving around with my parents.
I sang in church choir, the Fredricksburg Children's Theatre, high school choir, but by tenth grade, when I was 15 or 16, I was playing guitar a lot. I got paid for the first time at age 17, playing in the backyard of a restaurant.
When did you decide you wanted to make music for a living?
When I tried to get jobs when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. The minimum wage was $3.50. I did a little temporary construction work where I mostly would sweep or scrape mortar out of cinder block cracks for 40 hours a week. I realized that I could get a day's pay for 3 hours work, sit while I was doing it, and maybe even get a date out of it.
What led you to making this album for families, Kids?
Well, I had an unhealthy fascination with the Grateful Dead and listened to that Garcia/Grisman album [Not For Kids Only] long before I had kids.
So these songs are playful and positive, for the parents as well. Four of the songs were written before I even had kids. I'm trying to appeal to parents, too, make it more digestible. The parents are the ones buying it.
Did you road-test the music with your kids?
Yeah, we'd listen to the demos I'd recorded while driving in the car. My daughter learned the music so well that she's all over the record now.
And the concept was to not compromise in making the album?
Yeah... kids music doesn't necessarily need complexity, and I wanted to keep the lyrics light.
I wanted to talk briefly about the website -- it's pretty involved...
Folks like me are below the radar, and the website is the most important way for me to publicize myself. My wife is the mastermind -- she came up with the idea for the goat orchestra and the 24-hour goat cam. She also helped put together the physical packaging for the CD.
I've got a wonderful team that handles different parts of my career. I'm more of a weekend warrior now, it's a whole different way to tour. My wife has her finger on that -- the only problem I have is keeping up.
So are you hoping to do some family shows?
I'm definitely looking at doing some matinees. Some places I tour [for adult shows] are dank, dirty places, but some are clean and could work. If the record does well, I'll focus more on it, but for now, I'll just be piggybacking on the rest of my tours.
And what else do you have going on?
I've got a big New Year's gig coming up. I'll also be playing 11 Yo Gabba Gabba! Live shows in 7 days in the Pacific Northwest. I'll be playing 1 song for 5 minutes -- it's a coveted slot, I'm grateful for sure. And I've got 15 songs for an adult record that should come out next summer.
We'll see how this kids album does. It's a new, exciting adventure -- I will have to see what happens.
Photo credit: C. Taylor Cruthers