'The Times They Are a-Changin'

Southern musician marks progress over 60-year career

Posted 9/18/19

In some regards, the Deep South just ain’t the same, nor is the music of South Carolina native Jack Williams, a guitar picker and songwriter

“The things that have changed the most that seem to have affected me the most are when I go home it doesn't look like it did when I was a kid,” Williams said. “Everything has changed.”

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'The Times They Are a-Changin'

Southern musician marks progress over 60-year career

Posted

In some regards, the Deep South just ain’t the same, nor is the music of South Carolina native Jack Williams, a guitar picker and songwriter.

“The things that have changed the most that seem to have affected me the most are when I go home it doesn't look like it did when I was a kid,” Williams said. “Everything has changed.”

Except, perhaps, the conservatism of southern culture, Williams added.

“When I mean conservatism, I don’t mean necessarily as a political thing even though that is absolutely true. When it comes to religion and social interaction, it hasn’t much changed in the sense people do what they have always done, what they know. They really don’t step outside the box.”

But when it comes to music, Williams has stepped outside the box, or at least evolved over the decades, he said.

“When I started out I played jazz trumpet and went to rock‘n’roll guitar. We were playing Chuck Berry.”

Williams’ career began in Fort Lewis, Washington when he played his first gig in 1958, he said.

“By 1960 I had a really good band. We doubled as a jazz group and occasionally after playing a sock hop in Tacoma or Lakewood we would go up to Seattle on Union Street to a Beatnik coffee house called The End, and we would play some jazz as well as rock and I would read beat poetry. We had a two-way life going on there.”

Then, the tumultuous 1960s unfolded, and with it a whole new taste in music, Williams said.

“We went from the Temptations to Steppenwolf. I began to have the feeling, ‘I can do this,’ but it wasn’t until 1970 that I finally wrote my first song.I began to write more and more, at first rather abstractly.”

Williams said he writes what he knows.

“I started to write about my childhood, not in a self-centered or introverted way but in a way of expressing universal experiences. I’ve found that it is most interesting if you tell stories from your own perspective and I got my storytelling from my dad, a southern gentleman who loved to tell a good story.”

Since 1970, Williams said he has written maybe 1,500 songs.

“It is quite the catalogue. A lot of songs that got finished never got played because I didn’t think they were roadworthy.”

Although Williams began his career in multi-member bands, something he continued through the early 1990s, he now prefers to gig solo, he said.

“In 1968 I began a concurrent solo career. When I couldn’t find a band gig, I could find a solo gig. I was always working. Somewhere around 1992 I just shook the whole band idea having at least three really fine bands during those previous 30 years and having suffered the knowledge there is no way to regain chemistry. When the Beatles parted, it would have been foolhardy for them to have reformed in any other way.

Williams said he determined the only chemistry he could count on was that of himself.

“The great thing about that was I quit playing for bars, parties and restaurants, and started playing festivals, concerts, house concerts and various larger venues in the United States and overseas. I did four European tours.”

Relying on himself, Williams learned, was the best way to express himself.

“I am that way now, even though my albums tend to have people accompanying me at times. Still, when I play, I perform solo.”

During his upcoming performance at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at Rainshadow Recording, Fort Worden State Park, Building 315, Williams said he will perform the best of his works.

"I first heard Jack Williams when he was touring as a sideman for the legendary songwriter Mickey Newbury,” said Everett Moran, owner of Rainshadow Recording. “He was then, and remains to this day, one of the most remarkable acoustic guitar players I had ever heard. The very next year, I was attending the Folk Alliance music conference in Vancouver and it seemed like he was playing behind virtually everyone of note. His versatility came to the fore late one night in a hotel room where I found him jamming with an old bluesman up there, easily holding his own."

Moran said Williams’ technique is dazzling and conjures up visions of Tommy Emmanuel, but with a deep Southern soul reminiscent of Duane Allman.

“That makes perfect sense as Jack, a native of South Carolina, is a contemporary of and played with many of those great musicians coming out of Deep South in the1960s."

While Williams’ music has been labeled by some as folk, he prefers the moniker of singer-songwriter, he said.

“There are people in the folk world who don’t consider us songwriters as valid folk musicians although they tend to forget somebody wrote their songs. There are people still out there that think ‘folk’ means something along the lines of Peter, Paul and Mary. I am not that at all. What I do is a lot more energetic and a lot more interactive. I write and tell stories.”

With his background in the Deep South during the Civil Rights era, Williams has plenty to sing about.

“I talk about life as guitarist backing up blues artists at the University of Georgia. There are a lot of things to talk about people seem to be interested in.”

The struggle for race rights continues to be front and center, Williams said.

“In terms of the Black community, I think about how tough it has been for them and things have improved, but they haven’t improved enough, especially in the South.”

That isn’t to point a finger only at the South, Williams said.

“I’ve got friends in Milwaukee where I play who say they live in the most segregated state in the union. Whenever people point the finger at Birmingham or Montgomery or Selma, I have to remind them of Roxbury, Watts and Detroit.”

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