Calgary-based blues guitarist Tim Williams has been playing the blues since the mid 60's, getting his start playing coffee houses in Southern California, eventually settling in Canada in 1970. He's in much demand as a studio musician, adept on a number of stringed instruments and his fretwork has been compared to guitar legends such as Ry Cooder and David Lindley. He's also a talented songwriter and he's won a number of awards over the years, including the Calgary Blues Music Association's Guitarist of the Year for 2012.
More recently, Williams won top honors at the 2014 I.B.C., winning the Best Solo or Duo category and the coveted Best Guitarist Award. Continuing his hot streak, Williams recently released So Low on Lowdenproud Records. This is his first release as a solo act and he sings and plays six and twelve-string guitars, resonator, and mandolin. So Low has ten tracks, four originals and six covers. If you dig solo acoustic guitar, you must have this disc.
Mr. Williams kindly agreed to sit down for Ten Questions from Friday Blues Fix and we thank him for taking time to do so. If you want know more about Williams and his music, check out his website for more information:
Ten Questions with Tim Williams
Friday Blues Fix: When did you first become interested in playing music? Do you come from a musical family?
Tim Williams: My mother’s family and some of their friends were somewhat musical, and from watching them make music together on my grandparents’ patio I got the bug to play. I took up drums at eight, cigar-box guitar around that same time, and guitar and trombone when I was twelve or thirteen.
FBF: What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up, and how did you gravitate toward the blues?
TW: Southern California was a great place to grow up, in terms of musical influences. My parents loved Town Hall Party, the TV show filmed in Compton, which featured guitarists Merle Travis, Joe Maphis and Larry Collins. I was also exposed to Mexican music, Hawaiian music, and the great West Coast blues artists like T-Bone Walker and Pee Wee Crayton. I saw it all as just plain music, but the honesty in the lyrics of the blues drew me to it especially.
FBF: In your opinion, what is it about the blues that has such appeal to not just musicians, but fans?
TW: The blues looks everyday life right in the eye. It’s the truth. Addressing your troubles diminishes their power over you.
FBF: Who are some of your influences on guitar?
TW: My guitar influences are pretty numerous and all over the map. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Robert Johnson (acoustic players); T-Bone, Robert Lockwood Jr., Gatemouth Brown, Barney Kessel (electric); the great Hawaiian guitarist Sol Hoopii, and any number of Mexican players whose names I never learned.
FBF: Your career dates back to the mid 60’s, but So Low is your first ever as a solo act…..producing the disc and playing all of the instruments. How long has this project been on your mind and how challenging is it to do all of it?
TW: I have always wanted to do a studio recording in this manner. My earlier discs all mixed ensemble pieces with solo pieces, and sometimes I over-dubbed myself. For years I have wanted to simply record, under optimum circumstances, a disc of what I usually do live…two hands, one instrument.
FBF: You wrote several of the songs on So Low……. Tell us about how some of them came about. Can you describe your songwriting process?
TW: My songwriting process is like that of a lot of other writers. I carry a notebook and a pen with me most of the time, and these days I also use an iPhone to record ideas while I’m touring. I then take a look at it later and decide whether it moves me enough to finish it. Then there are the songs which basically write themselves as you write them down. That was the case with "Midnight After Midnight," whereas I carried the idea and first verse of "Lightnin’" around with me for a year before I finished it.
TW: Deciding which tunes make the final cut on a disc is usually a process of elimination, but with this project I knew exactly which tunes I wanted to record. Cover tunes are tricky in their own way because people experience them in a live setting and respond to that…meaning they may not be as good in a recording studio. I just followed my instincts.
FBF: In 2014, you had a huge year at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, taking home top honors in the Best Solo/Duo category and the Best Guitarist award. Can you describe what goes on for a typical blues performer during the IBC competition?
TW: My experience at the IBC competition was that it was a chance to hear what other people who share my love of this music are doing, and to meet other individuals who (like me) are serving a life sentence in the blues…artists, presenters, publicists and managers, media people, etc. I think that’s typical of most artists who compete. But it is a job, and the nitty-gritty of it is that you get up and do what you have to do (media, showcases, etc.), make sure of where you’re supposed to be, and get there early. Play your behind off, eat some catfish, maybe hear another act or two, and get some sleep. It’s not always easy, but I found the more rested and prepared I was, the easier each round of competition was.
FBF: So what are your future plans? Do you have another solo album in you? Do you have any other special projects in the works?
TW: Future plans include a whole lot of touring, playing festivals and teaching at blues and guitar camps. The next recording may be solo, or it may be a guitar/drums project, letting me play some electric guitar. There’s a theatre piece I’m working on (yes, about the blues), and there’s a recording in the can with a pair of very talented friends which may come out soon.
FBF: If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you would be doing?
TW: Probably working on a ranch somewhere (I did that job for several years).
Check out Tim Williams' discography here.