Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass Releases New Album,
DOS, to Benefit the Rex Foundation
Featuring Keller Williams, Michael Kang, Jeff Austin, and Keith Moseley
Performing Not-So-Traditional Bluegrass Versions of Grateful Dead Songs
Last week, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Keller Williams and Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation released DOS. DOS is the second Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass album to benefit the charitable non-profit organization started by the Grateful Dead to give grants to a variety of worthwhile causes. DOS is available for digital purchase now at nugs.net, with 100% of the proceeds going to benefit The Rex Foundation.
Culled from the live recording of “Nightfall of Diamonds”- A Benefit for the Rex Foundation at The Fillmore in San Francisco on December 7, 2013, DOS features Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass with Keller (guitar), Michael Kang (violin), Jeff Austin (mandolin), and Keith Moseley (bass) performing not-so-traditional bluegrass versions of beloved Grateful Dead songs. Among the ten tracks – “Jack Straw,” “High Time,” “Sampson and Delilah,” and “Althea.” View the full track list here.
The album puts a bluegrass/keller-esque spin on familiar Grateful Dead songs. While this has been done a number of times over the years by various artists, Keller’s playful vocal style and fun interpretation of those songs breathes new life into some old standards. Backed up by String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang and Keith Moseley as well as Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jeff Austin, you can’t go wrong.
I had a chance to chat with Keller Williams about his latest album, the Grateful Dead and some of his childhood inspirations.
ShakedownNews: Thanks for taking some time to chat with me. I got a chance to hear the new album and it’s excellent.
Keller Williams: Thank you.
SN: Recently I saw you at Huck Finn Jubilee out in Ontario (CA). That was very exciting to see you and String Cheese (Incident) and the Travelin McCourys bring that new sound to an old festival. Did you have a good time out there?
KW: Absolutely. It’s a real honor to be able to play a festival like that. There’s an amount of respect that goes into that. When picking a set-list, I’ve got people over my shoulder saying “You should definitely play what you’re used to playing.” That’s one of those festivals where it’s easy to fall into that kinda thing where you want to play something a little more adaptable for that type of festival. The energy was so big that I’m so glad I stuck to the String Cheese.
SN: It was certainly nice seeing you jump up with the String Cheese boys and doing a couple of your own. I personally love the Porta Potty song.
KW: A lot of festival drama goes on with the people watching while in a porta potty line.
SN: As far as the new album goes, this is the second Grateful Grass album, correct.
KW: That is correct.
SN: Like most of us in the jamband community, do your roots come from the Grateful Dead?
KW: Absolutely. It definitely started with the acoustic side of the band as well. You know like Reckoning and Bear’s Choice…things like that. That’s what I latched onto when I was a teenager. And then from there…the first thing I got into with the Grateful Dead was the improvisation and how it would just go off in different directions and then come back together. Definitely learned a lot of those songs at an early age.
SN: Now the Dead have such a large and diverse catalog of music, how did you narrow it down to the 10 that you chose for DOS?
KW: Well, for DOS, I started with the songs that we released on the first Grateful Grass album and made sure we didn’t play any of those. Process of elimination on that one (laughs). And, then I kinda let the songs choose me as far as what my favorites are or what I play live. It’s one of those things where they creep up on me, inside me and then I have to play them or else I’ll go crazy. Or I’ve just got to play them backwards to cancel them out (laughs).
SN: To get them out of your head…
KW: Or I just play them live a few times and they’re out of there.
SN: This album benefits the Rex Foundation. How did you start working with those guys?
KW: It was basically, wanting to share my versions of Grateful Dead songs and put it out there and have the money go somewhere good that was started by the Grateful Dead in the 80’s. You know, it’s a no-brainer type of thing. This is my third release benefiting the Rex Foundation. The second one was just a piano thing with Jerry (Garcia) ballads. Things like that.
SN: Someone reminded me that you toured with Rat-Dog a few years ago. Do you have a pretty good relationship with all the boys from the Grateful Dead?
KW: Well, you know, I’ve never really…I’ve casually met Phil Lesh but never really hung out with him. But I’m hoping to be able to do that this year. Bill (Kreutzmann) and Mickey (Hart) with the Rhythm Devils, we were on a bus for a few weeks a couple Summers ago. Bobby and the whole Rat-Dog thing, I think I’ve done 3 tours with Rat-Dog. 2001 then 2005 or 2006. One was rather extensive and we played together as a duo the last two songs of my set when I opened and that was a real treat to be able to play songs as a duo with Bobby (Weir). Definitely we’ve played a lot of music together.
SN: Connecting with your inspiration.
KW: Yes, very surreal.
SN: I was reading up and this year marks the 20th anniversary of your first album.
KW: Yeah it is.
SN: So many roads looking back. Any major life changers or I would have done it differently or I’m so glad I did this?
KW: Well, the first record I would have probably done differently. The first one, Freak, my very first studio album and it’s defiantly different from where my head is today but I’m not really putting a whole lot of focus on the 20 year thing. Makes me feel old (laughs).
SN: Couple quick ones that won’t require a lot of explanation. Favorite Dead song?
KW: Bird Song always comes to mind directly as my favorite. There’s so many. Scarlett Begonias is another one I play backwards in my mind sometimes. And you know the transition between Scarlett and Fire, that’s a real magical space of music that I like to get lost in.
SN: First Dead show?
KW: Uh…(pause)…Capital Centre, Landover Maryland, 1987.
SN: What’s your favorite venue to play?
KW: Favorite venue to play…well, Town Park in Telluride, Colorado is a pretty special place. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is there. There’s also a couple other festivals there. I’ve had the pleasure of playing on that stage and it’s like the biggest room in the world. An incredible spectacular view for the musicians standing on stage. So gorgeous you almost forget there’s an audience standing in front of you. In the audience you’d have to do a 180 to see the view we’re seeing but if I look and see the backs of people’s heads, I’m OK with that because they’re looking at something amazing and I’m right there with them.
SN: I read you had an early influence from the punk and that type of genre. What was the first album you ever owned?
KW: It was Destroyer by KISS. I think I was in the 1st grade or maybe 2nd grade and I bought it on vinyl.
SN: That’s a good one. Never expected to hear that but that’s a good one.
KW: Yeah, man. At an early age there were a lot of different musical paths my mind went to.
SN: What was the first concert you ever attended?
KW: Cameo with Zapp featuring Roger. Cameo was a band in the early 80s that had a hit song “Word Up”. I hung out at this pool, I was on the swim team. It was one of those situations where your parents dropped you off at 9 and picked us up at 4 in the afternoon. I was like 12, 13 years old I guess. This one lifeguard, we always had our own boom box and cassette tapes and this one lifeguard was like, “Hey, they’re playing at Kings Dominion which was like this big amusement park and she talked to all three of our parents and this 17 year old girl took these 13 year old dudes to a Cameo concert. The opening band was Zapp featuring Roger. Roger was like this really amazing Prince-like frontman/guitarist. He entered on a motorized chariot and had on like a leather bikini bottom, no shirt and he was ripping this guitar wirelessly on this chariot as he came through the audience. We were right up front. General admission, could walk right up front. From there I saw Big Country at a small venue. Great show with an incredible light show. Billy Idol came to town. These were like really heavy shows I saw at an early age that I still remember.
SN: And you ended up a bluegrass player?
KW: Oh, I definitely don’t consider myself a bluegrass player at all. That’s a genre that I love and that I feel but I defiantly don’t consider myself a bluegrass player. I’m a music lover first, musician second. I love it and play it to the best of my ability but it’s nothing like the real guys.
SN: So you’re back East because you just finished Gathering (of the Vibes)?
KW: I played Gathering (of the Vibes) on Friday then I played this awesome festival in Alaska on Sunday called Salmonstock.
SN: So, what’s coming up for you and the Grass?
KW: Let’s see, this weekend I’ll play two festivals in Colorado. One of them being a Grateful Grass set, that will be with Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green) on bass, Bill Nershi (SCI) on guitar and Allie Kral (Yonder Mountain String Band) on fiddle. I’ll be playing my little fake poser mandolin. That’ll be at the Arise Music Festival in Colorado. I feel like that 4 piece is kinda like a “once”. Like Bill Graham would say, it’s a show that will probably only happen once. This is one of those things that I’m really excited about this weekend. Then there’s a couple of other Grateful Grass sets at Yarmony Grass in Colorado and that’s with Jeff Austin and Keith Moseley. And, then something I’m really excited about is Sunday at Lock’n (Festival), I think it’s 11:30 am or something, we’re doing something called “Grateful Gospel”.
KW: Yeah, how far can you take it to? It’s an hour of Grateful Gospel with my 6 piece funk band called More Than A Little who are really seasoned in the world of Baptist African American Gospel. I’m adding 2 more singers so they’ll be 4 singers…a little choir and also John Kadlecik will be playing guitar for that hour long set. Sunday morning on the Woods Stage at Lock’n.
SN: Thanks again for taking some time to chat with me this morning. Looks like you have a lot of great stuff ahead of you and some great stuff behind you and we’re looking forward to seeing you in California soon.
KW: Thank you. A quick little P.S., I’m hoping to put out a new studio record of original material in the Spring of 2015. Lots of upright bass.
SN: Great news. Are you coming to California anytime soon?
KW: I think I might be out in California in the Fall.
SN: Excellent. We’ll see you then!
DOS is the third album released by Keller Williams to benefit the Rex Foundation. Grateful Grass’ 2008 recording, REX (Live at the Fillmore), and Keller’s 2013 solo release, KEYS: A collection of Grateful Dead Covers on Piano, have raised tens of thousands of dollars to support the grants Rex Foundation distributes to grassroots non-profit programs. “Keller’s contributions to Rex have been significant and worthwhile,” says The Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart. “We have deep appreciation for the help he has provided in serving the community we all care about.”
The complete list of currently confirmed Keller Williams tour dates is as follows:
Friday, August 1 Gathering of the Vibes Bridgeport CT
Sunday, August 3 Salmonstock Ninilchik AK
Saturday, August 9 Rhythms On the Rio Festival South Fork CO
Sunday, August 10 Arise Music Festival Loveland CO Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass featuring
Billy Nershi, Reed Mathis, and Allie Kral
Saturday, August 16 YarmonyGrass Music Festival Bond CO Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass
featuring Jeff Austin and Keith Moseley
Friday, August 29 The Ville Fest North Lawrence OH
Saturday, August 30 Big Moon Rising Music Festival Big Sky MT Keller Williams with More Than A Little
Sunday, August 31 Red Lion Hotel Kalispelll MT
Friday, September 5 – Sunday, September 7 Lockn’ Arrington VA Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass
featuring Jeff Austin and Keith Moseley plus Keller Williams Grateful Gospel Featuring More Than A Little w/ John Kadlecik (Furthur)
Thursday, September 11 (Utopia Fest Pre-Party)- Friday, September 12 Utopiafest Utopia TX Keller Solo and Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass Featuring Jeff Austin and Sam Grisman
Thursday, September 18 Phoenix Concert Theatre Toronto ON with Canada Chameleon Project
Friday, September 19 The Tralf Buffalo NY
Saturday, September 20 Sherman Theater Stroudsburg PA
Thursday, September 25 – Saturday, September 27 Watermelon Park Fest Berryville, VA Keller
solo, Keller & The Keels, and Keller Williams with More Than A Little
Thursday, October 2 Legends at Appalachian State University Boone NC
Friday, October 3 The Chop Shop Charlotte NC
Friday, October 10 The Festy Experience at Devil’s Backbone Roseland VA Keller Williams with
More Than A Little
Thursday, October 16 Terminal West Atlanta GA Keller Williams with More Than A Little
Friday, October 17 Magnolia Music Festival Live Oak Fl Keller Williams with More Than A little
Thursday, November 6 Port City Music Hall Portland ME
Friday, November 7 Paradise Rock Club Boston MA
Saturday, November 8 Higher Ground South Burlington VT
Thursday, November 13 The Bluebird Bloomington IN
Friday, November 14 Copper Dragon Carbondale IL
Saturday, November 15 The Blue Note Columbia, MO
Friday, February 27 – Monday, March 2 DSO Jam in the Sand Negril Keller Williams’ Grateful
Grass Featuring Vince Herman, Sam Grisman & Allie Kral plus Keller & His Compadres & Keller Williams Solo
Additional dates to be announced.