Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bill Williams - Low And Lonesome

Taken from the defunct Record-Fiend Blog:
People sometimes forget that not all of the geriatric musicians who received a wider degree of exposure during the blues revival of the 1950s and 1960s had been recording artists prior to World War II. Those who had made 78s in the 1920s and/or 1930s - e.g. Furry Lewis, Skip James, and Son House - came to be referred to as "rediscoveries." On the other hand, a "discovery" applied to the likes of performers such as Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, and Blind Connie Williams, each of whom had never sat in front of a studio microphone prior to the aforementioned movement that, among other things, spurred the efforts of particular revivalists to record rapidly disappearing styles of rural African-American music. Guitarist Bill Williams (1897-1973) belonged to that latter group of musicians and would be a more familiar name today if not for his late start at making records and noted reluctance for performing anywhere other than at informal gatherings.


Going by his repertory, it would be inaccurate to describe Williams as a bluesman; referring to him as a songster would be far more appropriate since he played folk, ragtime, gospel, hillbilly, pop, and blues with equal skill and passion. His diverse songbook and guitar chops left the Richmond, Virginia native sounding like an East Coast equivalent to Mississippi John Hurt, making it a pity that he did not live longer and record more extensively. Williams apparently never had any aspirations to become a professional musician and was content to use his talent as both a pastime and a way to entertain friends. During his younger days, he worked at a number of professions, including waterboy, miner, and cook while spending time in Delaware, Colorado, and Tennessee. Ultimately, he settled in tiny Greenup, Kentucky in 1922, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Although associates and neighbors were well aware of Williams's musical abilities, the remote area where the guitarist made his home allowed him to exist in, as blues historian Stephen Calt puts it, "contended oblivion" essentially throughout the 1950s-1960s blues revival. It was only after a local guitar instructor contacted Yazoo-Blue Goose head honcho Nick Perls in 1970 that this extremely impressive songster discovery became properly recognized as the "most technically accomplished living" musician of his kind during his brief moment in the sun prior to passing away.


Evidently, Williams was his own toughest critic in regard to his musical abilities and was incredulous that anyone would have interest in recordings of his music. As Low and Lonesome and Blues, Rags and Ballads (with the latter being the better-sounding rip of the two) readily make clear, he was being way too hard on himself since both albums show his guitar-playing skills and earthy singing voice to be remarkably well-preserved. The instrumentalist with which Williams is most often compared is Blind Blake, and the two allegedly spent time playing together while they both briefly lived in Bristol, Tennessee during the early 1920s. The visually-impaired guitarist's influence can clearly be heard on "My Girlfriend Left Me," "Too Tight," "Bubblegum," and "Blake's Rag," although they are obviously not the work of a mere copyist. Given his pre-1900 birthdate, Williams featured a large number of minstrel songs and ragtime-era numbers in his repertory, including "Chicken" (aka "Chicken You Can Roost Behind the Moon"), "Frankie and Johnny," "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor," "Darktown Strutter's Ball," "Nobody's Business," and "Railroad Bill." The flawlessly-executed instrumentals "Banjo Rag," "Bill's Rag," "Pocahontas" (arguably his finest performance), "Up a Lazy River," "Total Rag," "Listen to the Mockingbird," "That's the Human Thing to Do," and "Buckdance" present him at his most eclectic considering the wide-ranging music styles from which these pieces are derived. "St. Louis Blues" and "Salty Dog" are apparently two songs with which Williams became familiar by listening to them on record, whereas "I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome" and "When the Roses Bloom Again" come from bluegrass and mountain ballad (i.e. white) sources. As with any worthwhile songster, blues constituted an important part of this musician's stock of material, whether they were learned from other sources ("Lucky Blues") or resulted from his own creativity ("I'll Follow You," the magnificent "Low and Lonesome," and "Corn Liquor Blues"). Judging by the biographical details I've read, religion may not have been a big part of Williams's life, but you wouldn't know that from listening to his moving interpretation of the spiritual "Some of These Days."

This not my rip and comes from kiwi6


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Bill Williams stuff. Also thanks for the other 4 entries I just downloaded!--Bill