A Conversation with Jack Williams
Puremusic: How are things going?
Jack Williams: They're going really well. It's been chilly here, but it just got sunny, so we went out and did some painting. We have a new van that we're putting some wood shelves and things into. We just painted those up, it's a perfect day for it. And we're out here all by ourselves, in our little cabin, just enjoying the day and trying to do some quick work--because we've got to get on a plane tomorrow, which I hate to do.
PM: You much prefer to tour by van?
JW: That's a fact, unless I have to fly. And tomorrow I have to fly. They invited me to do the World Folk Music Association benefit concerts. It's an organization that's sort of like the Folk Alliance, but it has a different agenda. This is the second time I've done it. It's kind of a cool thing because of the people who participate in it. Odetta will be there, and Oscar Brand, and some of the old school folks. Two years ago when I did it, well, Steve and Cindy were there, and the Limelighters, and Oscar Brand was there as well.
PM: Oscar Brand, my lord, I had no idea that he was still around and performing.
JW: Eighty-plus. He's still kicking, still singing his bawdy songs. He's a cool fellow. And this is nice, it's a benefit. I don't get paid, but they pay for me and Judy to fly up, and they put us up for many days, and they feed us and make sure nothing costs, and we sell CDs. And it's at the Birchmere, which is just a great venue.
PM: I've never had the occasion to play there, but I hear it's just one of the greatest.
JW: Oh, man, it seats 600, and it's as intimate as that could be. 600, and you get to hang in a pretty relaxed manner with a lot of really interesting folks, and sit around and pick some songs.
PM: And one assumes you might move some mean CDs in that atmosphere.
JW: You can, you can do it. I'm going up two days early, because I went ahead and got myself a paying job on Thursday night, to try to offset what I might be losing.
JW: But yeah, it's a good thing. And Judy's going. I told them, "Well, I'll come if Judy can come." They said, "No problem. We'll fly her out too," so... We're just going to take our laptops and sit in the hotel and wander around. On nice days we'll go out and watch the birds, but other times we'll just be mostly trying to catch up on all that booking we lost out on during the CD process.
PM: Oh, was that a long process?
JW: The recording was quick, but Judy and I decided that we would do the graphics ourselves. We needed to save some bucks because we'd maxed out on the budget. Judy is very capable with the computer. She's not a computer geek, because she doesn't care that much for it. But she learned Quark and a couple of other pretty high-powered layout formats for publishing.
PM: Before she hooked up with the likes of you, she came from a corporate background, did she not?
JW: That's right, and so she understood the spreadsheet world and was good at it, but had never done the graphics and the inserting of the pictures, and moving around and putting the fonts over it. So we just designed both CDs ourselves, and that ended up taking most of the time. And the masters were a little heel drug, too. But it didn't matter. We're going to have them in plenty of time. We're only about a week away from one and two weeks away from another.
PM: Well, while we're on the subject, why don't we speak some more about these two records that are coming out back-to-back. What's the nature of the two releases? Are they different or similar?
JW: Well, they're supposedly different. The attitude was different.
PM: And what will each be called?
JW: The studio CD is called Walkin' Dreams. The other one is called Live and In Good Company. And the sameness of the two CDs will have to do with the musicians who performed, because the same people played on both CDs. It was a lot of fun. The first two days we spent--the thing is, the more I talk about it, the more I realize how similar the two CDs are in approach. The idea was to at least have good visual contact, and so be able to play with the musicians the way you might on a front porch, or as close to that as possible in the studio.
PM: Right. I hate when they're in rooms where you can't see somebody's face.
JW: I can't deal with that. It just don't work for me. And so we did the best we could, and we suffered the indignities of what happens when you can't have total separation. But I don't care much about that.
PM: The indignities of bleed.
JW: Yes. It just didn't bother me enough. I understand, you know, I like to hear the techno fellows, and they get really upset about that. I just don't care about it. So we did the studio CD, put together 13 tunes for that. And on the third day, when all our friends came in, the Edisto River Rat Choir--
JW: --we pulled everybody even closer in, and made it so that we were--we'd been sitting pretty much in the same room, except for Steve Klinck, the percussionist. And see, Steve hadn't even played these songs with us before. He's just an old friend who has played a lot of music with me over the years. And I just wanted his participation, and I thought that would help give it a little bit of that front porch, garage band feel.
PM: Yeah, to have the percussionist being the only guy that never heard the tunes before.
JW: Well, he wasn't the only one. The fiddler, Robert Bowlin, I had sent him a very rough practice tape, but pretty much, we just went in there and winged it. And the bass player [Cary Taylor], banjo [Susan Taylor], and mandolin player [Danny Harlow] and I had done some rehearsing, because these folks I play with whenever I'm in South Carolina. And they're people I've played with for a very long time. So it's not quite like a studio musician situation. These are all my pals, and they're people who understand my music best. Cary and Danny could easily be out on the road with me or anybody, they're good enough to do that. It's just that they're working folks and they choose not to go out and live that life.
PM: And that typifies the whole Williams-esque approach to music and to life, I would say. Not doing it with session musicians, not doing it the Nashville way, or even the folk corporate way.
JW: Yeah. The thing is, I don't know that many musicians who, when they make a CD, really sit down and ask, "What does this CD mean for me? What does this really represent?" I think a lot of people have some kind of glorified notion that this is a Holy Grail. They're thinking "Man, I've got my first record, here it is. This is what I've dreamed of, just having this record in my hand." A lot of young players have that. It's a brass ring. And yet, when you've been at it a while, you realize that it just doesn't have that kind of meaning. It doesn't carry that much weight as a thing in itself.
And not only that, but it's impossible to make it an accurate representation of your live performance. But therein comes the difference: there are some people who don't care about that. But my life revolves around live performance.
PM: Right. continue