Track By Track: Keller Williams with More Than a Little- Funk
Keller Williams' new live record Funk marks his debut with More Than a Little, a new group featuring bassist EJ Shaw, keyboardist Gerard Johnson, drummer Toby Fairchild, and vocalists Tonya Lazenby Jackson and Sugah Davis. The group originated through Keller’s connection to Fairchild, who played in one of his other many projects, the Added Bonus. “He was doing R&B on a Tuesday night once a week for a couple of months,” Williams explains. “They got me onstage and we just melded— we definitely connected. Even on a one-chord groove, we didn’t know what to play, so it was just an improv, but that one chord went into these small different realms of beauty.”
Here Keller walks through Funk, track by track...
I Told You I Was Freaky
That’s by Flight of the Conchords and it is just funny, white-boy funk with a dance groove. I started covering it and slowing it down. I’ve always had this freaky thing in my music, whether it was calling my first record Freek or the song “Freeker by the Speaker” that came later. The word “freak” has always
followed me around a little bit. The song is hilarious, and I feel it sets the tone for the record that we mean business—the business of having fun.
More Than a Little
More than a Little” is an older tune that came out on my Loop record many years ago . This was the first song that More Than a Little played together as a band, and it clicked right from the get-go. It’s a great tune to warm up on and get everyone ready for the night.
“Right Here” is more of a recent tune. It’s the one I taught to the band and they taught back to me in a different formula—that being the gospel/R&B formula. It’s got a fun chorus that people really connect with, especially when they hear it for the first time. I really love the gospel breakdown at the end.
Once in a Lifetime
During Stop Making Sense, the movie, you really got to see how powerful backup singers can be. I made a point to make sure that the singers in my band aren’t in the back—they are in the front right next to me. They are “upfront singers.” That’s what I like to call them.
[As they say on Chappelle’s Show], “That’s Rick James, bitch!” It was one of those songs in rehearsals where I was like, “You know that one?” And the band was like, “Oh yeah!” They showed me the chords and the bridge and everything. They really took over from there. It really showcases the upfront singers.
West L.A. Fadeaway
Obviously, the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia are a huge influence on me. I wanted to avoid doing full-on Jerry [Garcia Band] songs that have the backup singers prominent. I can just sing the backup singers’ parts from so many Jerry Band shows. The opening lick gets people. The Deadheads stand out for sure when that opening lick hits.
I Feel Love
When Donna Summer died [in 2012], there were a lot of Donna Summer songs that resurfaced. That was one that really grabbed me. The original is so trippy and gets really psychedelic and interesting. It has a super positive melody—a positive sexy song. I needed some disco in the set.
“B.I.T.C.H” means, “Being in Total Control of Herself.” The saying came from Gaye Adegbalola, who is name-dropped in the song many times. She was the singer/guitar player for the blues trio Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. She was also a teacher in my high school. A live version of her song “Bitch with a Bad Attitude” from [Vienna, Va.’s] Wolf Trap appears on a record [Live & Uppity], and she does this big breakdown about “bitch means being in total control of herself.” I just kind of lifted that line and quoted her in the song. I made up the song on the way to the studio one time listening to Shade 45, which is the hip-hop channel on SiriusXM. I kind of just made it up when I got there, transposing it over to this funk band. I get to use the Kaossilator—a touch-screen, handheld synthesizer that I can use to adjust the key, scale and tempo of the delays. With the right grooves, there are no wrong notes. That gets a little bit of play on that song.
“Samson’s Wine” is two songs: [The Grateful Dead-popularized] “Samson and Delilah” and Danny Barnes’ “Wine.” Danny Barnes is one of the unsung heroes and one of America’s jewels when it comes to songwriters. He’s a huge inspiration to me, in terms of his songwriting and how he goes about it. He’s completely sober yet he can write catchy songs with lyrics that talk about an eightball and a jug of wine. It’s really fun to sing about those eight-balls and jugs of wine. Somehow that morphs into a gospel version of “Samson and Delilah.” It’s a super fun way to spend your time on stage with these beautiful people.