November 2, 2009

Jack Williams

From the Songs you won't hear on the radio files:

In 1996 I was living in Aiken, South Carolina. I heard that there was live acoustic music on Sunday night at a place called The Whiskey Junction on Whiskey Road. I got there early. It was a dive in the back of a convenience store / gas station. The kind of place where the floor, walls, and ceiling are painted black and you read about in the police report every Monday for the devilment that happens in the parking lot on Friday and Saturday night.

The crowd looked pretty rough. Tough looking guys in jeans and flannel shirts at the bar. Ropers playing pool. I ordered a Guiness, nodded to the guys at the bar, and retreated to the brightest spot in the room, a back corner table under a Bud Light sign, to read my book. I think it was PJ O'Rourke's Parliment of Whores.

They eyeballed me occasionally, the guy sitting by himself, smoking a pipe, wearing a tweed jacket, drinking a strange black beer and reading. I'm surprised I didn't get my butt kicked that night. [I became a regular and even played a gig there several months later, but that's another story.]

A few minutes before showtime, a long tall drink of water came in with a guitar and amp and set up. After a quick sound check, he started playing and it didn't take but a few measures to convince me to close my book and give him my full attention. Great guitar playing, great songwriting, nice voice. I was in the right place.

As the set wore on, one detail puzzled me. He would switch from using a pick to fingerpicking without setting the pick down anywhere. It would just disappear and then suddenly reappear, sometimes several times within a song. I was too far back to see what was really going on.

After his first break I met him as he left the stage and asked him 3 questions:

  1. Do you have any CDs? [Answer, yes, but he didn't bring them in because the Junction isn't the type of place where people typically crowd around to get CDs. I got a copy of Highway from Back Home, which is no longer available, and Dreams of the Song Dog.]
  2. What gauge strings do you use. [Answer, if I remember correctly, is ultra light and a good amp setup to give it body.]
  3. What the heck are you doing with that pick? [Answer, "Feel my finger." I was skeptical at first. It sounded like some joke. But he held his finger out and I felt it. There big callouses at the joints. He demostrated how he sliped it into the crook of a finger and held it there while fingerpicking. It took me several months, but I eventually learned that little trick.]

During the second break he came back to my table and we hung out for a while, chatting. Nice guy, in case you were wondering.

Here are a few selections to give you the feel of his style, one I wish I had the time and dedication to emulate.

Morning Sun

Natural Man

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