“The last two years in late May I went down to the Kerrville (TX) Folk Festival. It changed me. Even more than the main stage shows, the late nights around the fire at Camp Nashville (where a lot of good songwriters show up to play, at least a couple of songs) are memories I keep close.
High among these memories are the magical moments where a guitar of disarming beauty would float in to the circle from behind me when I was playing some jazzy song. You didn’t have to look to see who it was. Everyone knew it could only be Jack Williams.
It’s been said already, but I’ll say it again: Jack Williams is a national treasure. When it comes to pulling the worlds of blues, country, rock and roll, and jazz together on an acoustic guitar, I’ve never heard his equal. It takes the lifetime of experience that he’s lived to do it credibly, you can’t do it at the Berklee School of Music. (Jack has all that training as well, about 30 years ago…) Sometimes you have to force him to play one of his trunk of beautiful songs, because he’s a consummate musician that’s happy to listen to your song, or play along.
He’s a lover of nature, and human nature. A very avid and experienced birder, he and his wonderful lady Judy will go far out of their way on the road forever traveled to some special bird watching destination. They live out in a cabin on the Medina River in Kerrville, where Annie and I went swimming with them one heavenly day.
Hanging around him that day, he spun just a few short tales that convinced me we had to get his story down on tape, so an interview with this classic American guitar slinger songwriter will soon appear in our pages. In fact, I’m in the office at six a.m. on a Sunday to finish reviews, because Jack’s in town to record a live CD today, and I’m gonna be in that studio audience. You can bet your ass on that. I’ve only begun to talk about this amazing man. Listen to the clips of his playing and singing. They say it all. And by all means, buy it..” Frank Goodman, Puremusic.com
Folk Gather at Kerrville – For the Annual Music Festival
By LUKE TORN, Washington Post, June 3, 2004; Page D8
(Also appeared in The Wall Street Journal)
“But the spirit of the Kerrville experience lies not in specific stars.
Instead, an egalitarianism permeates the campsites, where
rank amateurs trade licks and swap songs with brilliant (but generally
unsung) players like guitarist Jack Williams (collaborator
with Mickey Newbury and Harry Nilsson, among dozens of others) and
Freebo, longtime member of Bonnie Raitt’s band.”
Music Matters Review
Mike Devlin, Editor
September 15, 2000
House Concert: Cedar Stage Productions
Mt. Sinai, NY
I was not familiar with the music of Jack Williams before this concert. Ralph DiGennaro, Music Matters writer and presenter of this concert had fallen head over heals for him since hearing his first two albums. I listened to Across the Winterline in the car on the way to the concert and immediately went from being curious about my colleague’s obsession for this performer to a certainty that this was going to be an outstanding concert. I heard an extraordinary guitar player of eclectic influences and a voice with a roadmap of dues paying miles on it. The songs, even on first listen, reveal a narrative depth similar to the best southern short stories, but and better yet, the lyrics, melodies and deft picking compliment each other seamlessly. We walked past Williams’ wheels on the way in, another good sign—a van made up to serve as traveling living quarters for an itinerant musician. We sat outside in the cool of a perfect autumn evening on a cedar deck that blends into a beautiful garden.
The show opened with a three-song set by James O’Malley, a seasoned local performer who was joined by a subtly talented harmonica player. He sang a gem of a song about a swampy night jaunt with his brother that turns harrowing. Williams came out and stood in the doorway, clearly enjoying the tune. He was then introduced to an audience who with few exceptions, knew nothing of his music and in many cases little of his genre. It took him less than a song to enrapture the audience. The guitarists in the audience were treated to an up-close view of a man who can make his instrument speak in a variety of musical styles, from intricate classical to sweet jazz, to bluesy rock and roll. He’s a guitarist with at least two or three brains to handle rhythm, base runs, picked chords and melody (I guess that’s four!). The places that are worn through the finish on the guitar have paid the price for his flawless technique. The singing reminds me of Pierce Pettis, with a softness that stretches to a wonderful tension when the emotions of the lyrics run strong.
In the course of the show, Williams lets you know who he is and where he is from. The songs are powerful without explanation, but Williams’ autobiographical elucidation between songs draws one closer to the performer and his songs. We learn that he was an Army brat, moving from town to town—too fast to make lasting friends. His hometown of Columbia, South Carolina is a source of stories and characters. We find that he draws much inspiration from the poetry of James Dickey, among others. It is clear that he loves playing music more than anything in the world as he falls under the spell of his own songs. At the intermission when I asked him about the influences on his diverse guitar styles, he spoke of years of playing in a variety of bands, even blowing some horn in a jazz band. His tastes run from jazz to real rock and country to classical—he urged me to check out Brahms Fifth Symphony.
The evening was a wonderful discovery, not only of an artist, but of the people in his life—his mother, father, the nanny he never properly thanked for being there, the poets and the people of his hometown. Like the troubadours of old, his fame is among those who have been within the sound of his voice. Happily I now number among this select and lucky group. —Mike Devlin