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Keller Moves

Picture a one-man band in your mind. One goofy-looking guy laden down with as many instruments -- foot-operated kick drum, harmonica around the neck, cymbals on the knees -- as can hang from his body. The music is loud and clunky, imprecise, and heavily percussive.

Keller Williams updates that image with his intriguing blend of guitars, mouth-made sound effects, and a wide array of electronic toys. His on-stage approach to making music is a novel one: Williams will lay down a drumbeat with his mouth and loop it using one of his gadgets. Next, he'll do the same with other instrumental phrases, a bass line from his 12-string, an acoustic guitar solo, or maybe a trumpet-esque sound from the mouth flugel. Note by note, piece by piece, Williams creates a song. "I try to mix it up to keep it interesting for myself," he says in his raspy West Virginia drawl.

Last year was definitely an interesting one for Williams. In addition to his heavy touring schedule, he was busy in the studio working on Dance, a collection of remixes of songs gleaned from 2002's LP Laugh. And then he did something he had never done before: Keller Williams, the modern-day one-man band, headed into the studio and played every single instrument on his latest album, Home. "I did it because I can, because there are no rules," Williams declares. "I've been doing the solo thing, being the only guy on stage for a while, and I decided to bring that into the studio to see what would become of it. It was really fun and challenging to try to pull that off."

Williams' work in the studio did not stop when Dance and Home were completed. He has recently started Keller's Cellar: Somewhat Ruthless Radio, a syndicated radio show heard on stations around the country. "It's me being the music lover that I am and just having mountains of CDs all over the place, some of them not in cases and in danger of being stepped on." The latest edition of the show featured tracks from jazz legend Charlie Byrd, roots reggae greats Black Uhuru, and the Grateful Dead's "Birdsong," a song Williams holds close to his heart. "That's probably one of my favorites to play," says Williams, an admitted Deadhead whose sets are spiced with a wide range of cover songs. "That was one of my favorite songs to hear the Dead do in concert, and it was one of the songs [Grateful Dead guitarist] Bob Weir and I played when we played together in 2001. The Grateful Dead are a huge influence in my life -- be it music or lifestyle."

For a musician who carefully studied the Dead's canon of musical improvisation, the next step should be obvious. "I'm going to release a double live album," Williams states. "I never really approach a song the same way twice."

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Scott Medvin

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