Jack Williams has led the long, winding life of a professional musician for the past 40 years. This is the abridged version of his journey.
The Elvis Years: As an adolescent in the early 1950s, Williams was bitten by the rock ‘n’ roll bug. “By the time I hit tenth grade in ’58, I started playing guitar,” he says, “Within a week, I had found some guys and put a band together. We played Chuck Berry, Elvis, all the hits of the time.”
The Dylan Period: “In 1968, I had a band in Athens, Georgia, called Leaves Of Grass, with David Causey and Randall Bramblett. I had already built a repertoire as a solo guitarist at the time, however. I was playing Dylan, The Band, an odd eclectic mix of things I liked, including Hank Williams and Jesse Winchester.”
Twenty Years of Rock: “In 1970, I hit the road full-time, living between Colorado and Hilton Head, South Carolina. This was with several different bands, and at the same time, I always had the solo thing going. In 1970–71, I wrote my first songs, some of which I still play.”
The Gray ’90s: It wasn’t until the last ten years that Williams began to make a real name for himself on the national folk music scene. One of the main catalysts for this well-deserved attention was his association with Mickey Newbury. Williams has played lead guitar on tour and on albums with Newbury for much of the past decade.
“I first met him in 1992 at the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival at the Florabama nightclub,” Williams explains. “Mickey heard me play there and invited me to sit in with him. I didn’t realize how odd this was until I found out later that he never invites anyone to sit in.
“Mickey and I hit it off — we’re only three years apart in age, after all. I got a call about playing on the live album, Nights When I Am Sane, and we cut that while I was still learning these songs. Then I co-produced Lulled By The Moonlight, and played on it too.”
Williams’ own music has taken the forefront in the past couple years, however. His 1997 self-released album, Across The Winterline, is a mixture of gumbo, grits and genuine southern charm set to music. The album ranges from funky and playful tunes such as “Mama Lou” and “You’re The One”, to the romantic wisdom of quiet tales such as “Playing On The Runway,” to his ode to the late poet and novelist James Dickey, “The Old Buckdancer’s Gone”.
Williams credits his upbringing for the diversity of his songwriting. “My parents didn’t recognize musical genres, and we listened to Rachmaninoff, the Dorseys, pop tunes of the ’40s, and jazz,” he explains. “There was never a distinction between styles, and that stuck with me.”
Across The Winterline was recently picked up for national release by the folk label Wind River, which also plans to put out a new Jack Williams album this fall, and to reissue his first solo recording, Highway From Back Home, sometime next year.
Despite the recent upsurge in activity, Williams remains philosophically ambivalent about his career. “I’ve never wanted to go further, so to speak — just reach more people, get better as a musician, and keep playing,” he says. “My main frustration lately comes from having less time at home, now that I’m getting more successful — a nice problem to have, actually.”