Pittsburgh: Lefty Williams Interview By Monica Yasher

Posted on 12/04/2009 by Monica Yasher

“The bands that stand the test of time are the bands that write something that people can connect with. That’s what I’m trying to do.“

Lefty Williams wishes to be known as an accomplished songwriter and musician. As a listener, you can’t think anything other than the man can play that guitar and sing from his heart. You would never know by listening to his hot guitar licks, that he was born without a right hand.

Since this is the season of giving, I decided to make Lefty my first interview for the month. He is an artist who truly lives year long in the spirit of the season. He gives back. He does a lot of benefits for handicapped children. Lefty has been asked from people across the globe, either in the same situation as himself or know someone who is one handed and wants to play a guitar, how to create that guitar pick. And he helps everyone who asks. He is inspirational not only by his guitar playing, but by his giving.

He is also sharing with a lot of new artists his personal experiences as a musician. “Snake Oil”, his most recent CD, is all about his trials and tribulations in the music industry. Lefty states that his business affiliations have probably set him back by at least two years. He offers words of advice to check things out before you make the agreements.

Lefty’s work is nominated for Homegrown album of the year. So, would you mind supporting this musician and cast a vote for placement in this prestigious award. He’s a hell of a guitar player!

Just one last note that his two songs, ‘On the Prowl’ and ‘Hey Mama’, feature blues artist and Georgia friend, Tinsley Ellis. So, sometime this month, we will talk to Tinsley! But, here is a bit about Lefty first!

Lefty Williams: Hello.

Monica: Hi Jason. How are you? This is Monica.

L: I’m great how you doing?

M: Pretty good. Let’s introduce you to the reader first off. What would you like us to know about you?

L: I’m a guitar player and musician.

M: How did you go about learning how to play a guitar?

L: I started learning to play guitar when I was a kid. My dad was a guitar player and his dad was a guitar player.

M: Oh wow.

L: When I was real young, like three years old, I used to pickup my Dad’s guitar and tried to play it by strumming chords. Beyond that, my Dad taught me chords. I kind of took it from there and taught myself how to transcribe albums. I listened to radio and figured out what keys things were played in.

M: What gear do you use and why? I saw on your webpage you have some endorsements. Could you tell us a bit about that?

L: Until Curbow guitars went under, I had an endorsement deal with them. I’ve had one of their basses for a long time. After Greg Curbow passed away, they decided to do a benefit for school children. So my band went up and played. They approached me afterwards about using their guitar line. They made a guitar for me. The guitar is unbelievable. The gentleman that made it, his name is Doug Somervell. He’s actually still doing some independent work. I always joke. And it’s really not a joke, because I do do this. I’ll change a string if I break it midsong instead of picking up one of my other guitars. I like the sound and tone of the guitar so much that I don’t really want to play any other guitars.

Then as far as amplifiers go. I have an endorsement deal with Mahalo Amplification. They are also a small company in Georgia. It’s a guy that I’ve known for years. He’s a drummer named Scott and a guitar player that I met, named Rich Mays. Richie used to work for one of the bigger repair places here in town and decided that he wanted to build amps. He started making them and Scott heard his amps and was wowed and thought they were amazing. So they got together. There are quite a few people using their amps right now. They are just amazing. These are the first amps that I’ve ever owned that I don’t feel that I need distortion pedals. I can get the sound that I want and can go straight into the amp.

M: What I find amazing on this endorsement conversation is that who would think you would be offered it, I mean, that’s the most unlikely venue. Out of all the places you could be, who would think you would have that offered by playing for school children? That seems so unlikely. So for those young artists out there, the take is you always do your best because you just never do know who is listening, huh?

L: Yes. That’s absolutely true! I mean. My band has done some nights where you think it is a dead end and empty. It will be the first time we play in some town or something and there are four or five people in there. At the end of the night some guy walks up to you and tells you what great artist they work with or tell you they manage Derek Trucks. And continue to say that I’ve been hearing about you for years and so glad I caught your show. You know, so I mean, I get that kind of stuff all of the time. So one of the things that I always tell my band is you got to play every room like there are ten thousand people in the room. You never know who that one person there might be, or who those ten people might be, or who those hundred people might be.

M: Do you find it harder to play for a small crowd than a large crowd?

L: I don’t. The reason I don’t is because I play for my band members. I play for myself. I HOPE that the people watching are enjoying it and we are putting on a good show and that they are having a great time. But, realistically I’m just trying to make something magical happen with my band.

M: I saw on your FACEBOOK page, that you wrote a song and the band was so on for you. I take it you guys are really tight?

L: Yeah.

M: How long have you been together?

L: That’s the thing, most of the people I play with are just amazing musicians and I’m really lucky to have people like that. The drummer has been with me for about two years. The bass player less than a year.
The keyboard player maybe a year in total.

M: Sounds like you have the challenge, as all musicians, of keeping the band together.

L: Yes. It’s not easy. Artists are interesting people. You have a lot of strong personalities. People want what they want and want you to do what they want. It takes a lot of give and take. Again, I have a group of great players right now and they are the most solely focused group I’ve ever been with. Everyone is exactly on the same page and we all want the same things and we are working our butts off to get there.

M: And, what do you want?

L: I would like to be on the road full time. I want to be out seven days a week playing with my band.
We want the tour bus! (LOL)

M: Yeah, don’t we all want the bus, huh? We don’t want the little van. We want THEE bus!

L: Exactly! I don’t care that it’s a 1965...

M: Oh, I care! I want one of those new…Like GE Smith has! I really liked his buses!
I was like WOW! I want that bus!

L: I was back stage with Warren Haynes in Birmingham this summer. They had a crew bus and then Warren had the band’s bus. Those buses were decked out!

M: I bet! Well, I hope you get the bus someday!

l: Well, me too! Honestly, it really isn’t about the material stuff for me. I just want to be able to pay all my bills and have fun playing music. I’m not in it because of the fame and fortune. I’m in it because I love to make art. Unfortunately, I need the money to stay alive.

M: Not everyone can make art. So if it is your gift, you should. I read that you have twenty years of musicianship behind you and you have two CD’s.

L: Yes. I have two CD’s out. “Big Plans” was released in 2006. “Snake Oil” was released in 2008. It was just nominated for the home grown album of the year. Voting will be done at the end of December.

M: You are not new to the blues. Is that from your Dad or was he rock or something else?

L: He was more rock. I’ve gone through all kinds of musical styles and I still do. The reason that I landed on blues is advice from my wife. She said you are really good at doing this particular style of music. You should probably just try to focus on that for a while. It’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy doing it. I love the greats. Recently I just met Joe Bonamassa. He is just amazing.

M: Oh Yeah!

L: He is exciting to watch and that hasn’t happened for me in quite a while.

M: Yes. He is Awesome! He has too many friends out on FACEBOOK right now. He has hit 5000. Let’s talk about “Snake Oil”. How did you come up with that name? It’s very interesting.

L: I had couple of people that I started to work with in the music business. They got out and saw us, wanted to work with us, and made a bunch of promises, and, they stuck it to me. It truly set me back by a couple of years. The things that they did. That’s pretty much what that’s about. There are two or three songs on “Snake Oil” that are about those particular people. Basically, it’s about being lied to. When I was writing the songs, I had the image of the old snake oil salesmen that pulls into town with the horse drawn cart and starts selling all those magical snake oil cures. That’s what that’s all about.

M: Since you’ve been through the ropes a little bit, what kind of advice would you give to new artists?

L: Check up on them. With the internet, it’s so easy. Call people that are on the label and call people that are on the roster. If it’s a booking agency or management company., talk to the other artists and find out what the other artists have to say. There are a lot of booking agencies out there that will go out there and say they like this band. They will hire the band and bring them into the roster. And then, not pay any attention to that band because that band is not their big money client. You know, if you’re not like Dave Matthews or the Allmann Brothers, then your band gets the scraps, the leftovers. That’s if you tell them about it. It’s real easy to talk to another band on the roster and ask if they are doing a good job for you. Ask are you staying busy?

M: OK Thank you.

L: Your welcome.

M: Let’s talk about the songwriting and production of the album, since it’s nominated for the Homegrown album of the year. What does that mean?

L: Homegrown music net is a network of musicians and bands. It’s mostly roots music. It’s managed by a guy who used to manage a band out of North Carolina called Purple School Bus. He realized that he made a lot of connections with people and started introducing people to new music and obtaining a catalog. It’s been going on for about fifteen years now. Maybe twenty. He helped out with Dave Matthews when Dave was getting started and Blues Traveler and a lot of the jam bands. So it’s basically a jam band network. But if you go to the site, any music you find on there is going to be good. There are real picky about the bands that they let join their site. If you want to find something new you have never heard before, it is a good place to go.

M:It appears that you also do acoustic too?

L: I do tons of acoustic shows.

M: What do you prefer, the acoustic or electric?

L: I prefer playing with the band. When I do the acoustic, I do a lot of looping. I have a machine that I record everything and then play it back so it sounds like I have a band up there. I beat on my guitar to make drum sounds. It sounds like a whole backing band. It’s digital. It’s not organic. When I’m doing this stuff, it’s a good way to get a full sound by myself. But, it’s not the same experience as me playing with the band.

M: As a bluesman creating a legacy, what would you want people to say about you twenty years from now?

L: That he was a good songwriter.

M: In what way? Good melody, good lyrics, writes great bridges? What is your niche?

L: Just good songs. Overall good songs. I really like to study interesting forms and melodies. Catchy lyrics. The bands that stand the test of time are the bands that write something that people can connect with. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to give a piece of myself that is…that is something that everyone experiences. I’m trying to do it in a way that is interesting and fresh. And, I’m trying to do the blues in a way that has not really been done before. One of the things that I hear from people that try to learn my material is that they get my record and they then realize the form, the chord progressions, are different. Even though it sounds very familiar because it’s blues based, they are not what they expected them to be because I throw in a lot of strange forms. I consider playing a typical twelve bar blues in nine. I might do something that is eighteen bars. I then throw off time sections. So instead of being in four four or three four it might be in seven eight. I do a lot of interesting incorporations to keep it bluesy and at the same time go in a different direction that it has never been done in the past.

M: That’s interesting. A listener expects a certain format. So when they don’t get what they are expecting….

L: They tune you out?

M: So how do you keep your listener involved in your music if you are not giving them what they are expecting to hear?

L: What I try to do is give them enough of what they are expecting to keep their attention and enough of what they have never heard before to make it new. It’s a balancing act and it doesn’t always work. I’ve had some songs that I’ve written that I think is really good and then I take it to the band and play it for them and they don’t have to say anything. I can see that they think it is awful.

M: I think that’s gutsy.

L: I police myself. I’m my worst critic. It’s always a challenge. I don’t like repeating myself too much, musically speaking. So, I try to do songs very different than the one I created before it. I have some songs that are OK and need to be rewritten and reworked and my band loves the songs and wants to play them more often. I’m like, I don’t really like it. And, they tell me I’m crazy and it’s awesome!

M: One thing is, you have to say true to yourself and sometimes when you don’t get the reaction you’re looking for you have to stick to your guns if you really believe in your song.

L: Yeah. I try to write something that everyone can relate to. Everyone remembers a time when they got busted by their old man or got hammered a little too much one night. Or, everyone remembers a lost love. Experiences are universal.

M: What’s next for you? Touring. CD’s? What’s on your horizon?

L: I’m about to sign a record deal. I’m going to be doing a live album in January for a spring or fall release-not 100 percent sure yet. Touring never stops. It’s ongoing. We go out from Thursday thru Sunday. We would like to do Monday through Sunday. We have been in Pennsylvania. We do Maryland a few times a year because I have family there. I mostly do acoustic there. My band primarily plays in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina and Tennessee. With the economy being what it is, it is hard to get much further out. People aren’t going out as much. It is difficult to maintain a large touring area. Hopefully in 2010, we will be in Texas, Colorado and Arkansas. North we want to go to Virginia.

M: Anything else you want to tell me?

L: I do a lot of appearances for disabled children.

M: Lefty, you are very inspirational.

L: I was born without a hand. This is what I know. It’s not more difficult for me it’s just life. It is what it is.

M: Has anyone else every told you how inspirational you truly are?

L: People come up to me all the time and tell me of kids that have only one hand and could you make one of those picks for them? I do that a lot. There’s a girl here in Georgia that I give guitar lessons to that I have done that for. There is a kid in Australia that I have talked to. Some people in Chicago. They come in bursts and I get these random connections from people that find me on the internet. They ask me how I do that and tell me that they have a son or daughter, sister, uncle, and if I send you a picture can you tell me how to make one of those picks? What I did for the longest time is just put up pictures of my pick with directions on how to do it. I had it on my message board. Then I got spammed and had to take it down.

M: Did you develop that pick yourself?

L: Yeah, I invented it when, I was like, three. But, it won’t work for everybody. Everyone’s arm is different. So what I do, I tell them to send me a picture and we can figure out what will work well for YOU. It may not necessarily be like mine. Every person is different and we custom the development of the pick for the person. We share some ideas and try each other’s creations and see what will work best for that person.

M: That’s so cool that you can help someone. Thank you so much for your time.

L: Thank you, Monica

If you enjoyed reading this artist, you may enjoy reading about
Moreland & Arbuckle

Thank you for reading American Blues News!

Copyright © 2009 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photographs used courtesy of Lefty Williams.

American Blues News Staff

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