Posted August 24, 2014
Over a year ago, a Boomerocity reader turned me on to a remarkable and gifted guitarist from Georgia. His name is Lefty Williams and he was nothing short of amazing. What made him ever more amazing is that he played so incredibly well despite the fact that he was born without a right arm. I have two arms, all my fingers and four eyes and I can barely play a few chords. Lefty was smoking up his guitar like you wouldn’t believe.
Despite getting this great tip on a mind-blowing artists, I didn’t get around to asking for an interview until recently when I heard from his publicist that Lefty was coming out with a new EP entitled, “All In” (August 21st release date), I begged for the disc and for an interview.
Ask and y’all shall receive.
When I received “All In”, I was all in , for sure. Each of the five tunes on the disc are great and worth repeated slaps of the “Repeat” button (Look up the Boomerocity review of this great album). If I hadn’t already been a fan of his from watching his gigs on YouTube, this disc would’ve made me one.
When I called Lefty at his Norcross, Georgia, home, we talked a lot of industry related shop before getting to the formal interview. Williams is engaging and very easy to talk to, making me feel as if we’d known each other for years. I asked him to give Boomerocity readers a “Reader’s Digest” version of his story.
“Before I was born, my dad used to put headphones on my mom’s stomach and play ‘Yes’. Initially, I guess, I cut my teeth on early prog rock. My dad started out teaching me and my dad is not an educated guitar player. He did everything by ear. He never went to school for it or took any lessons. His dad taught him and his dad taught him. I was sorta handed down through the family.
“I can remember the first song that I ever learned to play was ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix and the second song was ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. My dad started out teaching me chords and then how to listen to the songs and figure out what they were playing. That has, probably, been the most invaluable bit of teaching that I have ever gotten – how to listen to the song and pick apart each little instrument and figure out what each instrument’s doing. So, I grew up transcribing a lot, listening to songs and figuring songs out.
“Some of my earliest influences were, obviously, Jimi Hendrix and I was a big, huge fan of Led Zeppelin. Still am. Led Zeppelin is still, to this day, my number on band. I’ll never get sick of listening to Led Zeppelin. I don’t know what it is. That’s a band that I can listen to every day for a month then put it away for a week and then listen to them every day for another month. There’s just something about Jimmy Page’s riffs and musical ideas and Robert Plant’s vocals and John Paul Jones and John Bonham. I think that John Paul Jones is one of the most underrated musicians on the planet. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant get all the credit for everything but John Paul Jones, from what I understand, did all of their arranging. He brought all of the bass and keyboard stuff to the table. Anyway, I’m a big fan!
“After that, I would say, probably, Pink Floyd because a big part of that prog thing and Yes – Yes is a band that I have a funny relationship with. I have to be in a mood to listen to Yes. When I’m in a Yes mood, they’re the only band that I want to listen too. If I’m not in a Yes mood, I don’t like them. I mean, I love Yes when I’m in the mood to hear Yes. But if I’m not in the mood to hear Yes, I don’t want to hear them at all.
“So, I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock. I noticed that when I was in middle school, all the bands that I liked were from the sixties and seventies. All the bands that my friends liked were current. It took me a while to figure out why. I didn’t figure out why that was the case until I was older and then I realized that it was, ‘Well, this is what my mom and dad listened to all the time”.
“So, I went through that phase then, probably in middle school I started listening to a lot of Alice Cooper – got into heavier stuff. I was a big Iron Maiden fan and Metallica. When Metallica was first coming out in the eighties, I had ‘Kill Them All’ and ‘Ride the Lightening’ early on. Those are still some huge influences on me.
“I learned how to solo by transcribing the solo to ‘Stairway to Heaven’. That was my motivation for developing my pick in the first place was because – instead of just strumming – I wanted to be able to pick individual notes and have speed. So I invented my pick when I was six and then immediately started trying to start transcribing the solo to ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Looking back now, that was kind of ambitious. But, still, that’s where my head went. That was my motivation. I wanted to learn how to play that solo. I wanted to learn how to play those songs. That’s where my motivation came from was being able to do that. Even though it was a bit of a reach, that’s just kinda how I roll. I’ve always been an adventurous dude. I don’t mind taking risks.”
Later in our conversation, Lefty added, “I’ve been re-discovering, here lately, some old bands that I had totally forgotten about or had only heard maybe one or two songs from. I’ve been getting into Paul Kossoff and Free, an early Paul Rodgers band and stuff like that. I’ve got a friend who is very tied in with Paul Rodgers and she turned me on to Paul Kossoff. We got to talking and I started looking up stuff and realizing that, man! That band was awesome!
“That and Humble Pie – I recently rediscovered Humble Pie. Yeah, everybody knows '30 Days In The Hole' but that whole record is just smokin’! And Little Feat was a band that I’ve been listening to for about ten years now. I knew a few of their songs when I was a kid. Growing up I had heard, ‘Oh Atlanta’ and stuff I happen to come across the radio in the eighties when they had their resurgence. All those deep cuts are just amazing!”
With the mention of Humble Pie, our chat briefly veered into Peter Frampton territory.
“I read an interview with him (Frampton) in Guitar Player probably a year or two ago. It was whenever he released ‘Thank You Mr. Churchill’ – his first studio record with vocals in a long time. I’ve been meaning to begin digging into him because I wasn’t aware that he had been doing all instrumental guitar albums for the last however long it’s been. He said he hadn’t done any of those in forever because he wanted people to pay attention to the music and not just call him a pretty boy. I thought that was really cool. That caused me to think that maybe I need to dig into some of his stuff.
“And since we’re talking about guitar players, Steve Lukather is a guy that blew me away. I was at NAMM in Nashville the year before last and I picked up a copy of Lee Ritenour’s “6 String Theory” – a compilation album with him and a bunch of different guitar players. Steve Lukather had a track on it that just floored me! It’s so good! It’s got all kinds of musicians on it. Bonamassa’s on it. (John) Scofield’s on it. Keb’ Mo’, Taj Majal, Pat Martino. Steve Lukather’s on two tracks. He’s on a track called ‘68’ and on another one called ‘In Your Dreams’. ‘68’ has Lukather, Neal Schon and Slash and ‘In Your Dreams’ has Lukather, Lee Ritenour and Neal Schon on it. It’s awesome! It’s a great record – especially if you like guitar music.”
I asked Lefty if he was picked on in school because of the physical challenges he was born with and if music was his refuge as a result.
“Music was always a refuge. It’s always been something that I turned to when I’m upset or sad; when I’m happy as a way of expressing myself. But I didn’t do it because I got picked on. I never really got picked on in school. People either loved me in school or they hated me. I’m a very outgoing person. I like to talk to everybody. I’m very friendly with people.
With two previous albums under his belt, I asked Williams how “All In” was different in writing and recording from the other two.
“The big difference was that I had a producer. My first and second record, I credited John King with producing but John didn’t really produce. He just kind of recorded and engineered. I didn’t really understand at that time what a producer’s role was. That’s why I credited him with producing. The reality was that I did pretty much all of the producing. The big thing with me is that we got into the studio Ashley Dennis. He was instrumental in making the album sound the way that it does. He did all of the producing. He did all of the mixing on it as well. He’s a huge part of the reason why that album sounds as good as it does.
“As far as coming together with parts, he helped write a lot of the drum parts on the record and shape a lot of the bass lines. He was a very active participant in making that happen. That’s the biggest difference: the first time to really have time to get in and make an album sound the way that I wanted it to sound.
“My last two records were done in less than a week. That’s from the minute we loaded into the studio until having a finished master in my hand. With this new one, we really took our time to make sure all the parts were right. We pecked and poured over every note. Not only is it the right note but does it feel good? Is it in the right place? Should we affect the rhythm? A lot of that was me and a lot of that was Ashley just really being meticulous with things.
“As far as meaning goes, the songs on this record are a little more personal. All of my songs come from something that has actually happened to me. Sometimes, I write stories and base songs around things that have happened to me but weren’t necessarily exactly what happened to me. ‘Crescent’ – I got the inspiration for that song because my wife – before we got married and part of the reason why I married her – on my birthday, she took me on a train trip on the Crescent line down to New Orleans. So, when I was writing the song, I knew that I wanted to write a song about New Orleans so I took that train trip to New Orleans as the inspiration for the song. I loosely created a story based around meeting a girl on the Crescent. It’s sort of half based on reality and half based on story.
“With ‘Let It Roll On’ – the second song on the record – that tune was actually just about waking up in a good mood. I had been playing that guitar riff for a while and it felt like such a happy riff. I just woke up in a great mood one morning and wanted to write a song about having a good day.
“’Your Know I Love You’ is a song that I wrote for my wife on our tenth anniversary. That’s a very special song for me because my wife has never given me a hard time about being on the road all the time. She never complains about me being gone. She’ll tell me that she misses me and that she loves but she never makes me feel bad about having in other states for work. I’ve written several songs to her and that one was me saying, ‘Thanks for ten great years. I really appreciate you and I know that we can make it through anything no matter what.
“’Coming Apart’ was a song wrote that has multiple meanings. Originally, it was kind of a prayer for people when they’re feeling sad. But the other part of that is, if you’ve ever done solo acoustic guitar, to get a booking you have to be the guy standing in the corner of the Mexican restaurant that nobody’s really paying attention to. That’s sort of, kind of what that song’s about: feeling a little sad.
“I’ll tell you the original inspiration for that song. It actually came from a very funny story. I play in an Allman Brothers tribute band, sometimes. We had done a show at Riverbend Festival and played to 40,000 people and that was on a Saturday night. And, then, Sunday night, back at home in Atlanta, I was playing a show at a place – this old dive bar in Atlanta. It was just a solo acoustic gig. I do that to fill in income when I’m not on the road so I stay busy. There was probably five people in the room and not one of them was paying attention to me. I started thinking about it and I kinda laughed out loud because it tickled me a little. I thought it was funny. I’m like, ‘Man, I played to 40,000 people last night that were all screaming my name. And, now, I’ve got five people in the room who couldn’t care less what I played’.
“I thought it was funny and I laughed. One of the guys was, like, ‘What’s so funny?’ I said, ‘You really wanna know?’ and he said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘I played to 40,000 people yesterday’ and he goes, ‘Whatever’. So I whipped out my phone and I showed him the video that I took from the stage and said, ‘Well, I really did!’ He looked at it and said, ‘Oh my god, what are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Playin’ for you!’
“So, it’s that feeling of loneliness that I know every guitar player who’s ever done that gig understands, where you’re standing up there, pouring your heart out into a song and nobody’s really paying attention. But, then, the funny thing is that, every time we walk away from the stage, everybody in the room that you pass by says, ‘Dude, you’re awesome!’ And, it’s, like, ‘Well, clap! If you like it, show it!’”
Lefty then went on to share the story about his song, “You Don’t Tell Me”.
“That song is one inspired by an argument with my wife. It’s not about her. What happened was we were in an argument and I was ironing my clothes. I was mumbling to myself and running over the argument in my head. I was always fond of saying, ‘You don’t tell me. I tell you!’ It’s just my southern upbringing. My redneck side comes out in me every once in a while. So, I said that, as soon as I did it occurred to me that everybody has gone through a break up. Everybody has been at the end of a relationship. I decided at that moment that I needed to write a song about that. It’s something that everybody feels. So, the song is not about my wife or about our relationship but it was sort of inspired through our relationship. That’s another one of my favorite songs to play. It’s real high energy. It’s really cool because every time we start playing the song, by the time we’re done, people are singing the chorus with us. So, it’s a lot of fun.”
I know artists don’t like to pick a favorite song from their albums because it’s like choosing a favorite kid. That said, I did ask Lefty which song he would use as a calling card for “All In”.
“I would say, ‘You Know I Love You’ or ‘You Don’t Tell Me’. Either one of those two. They’re my favorite to play and my favorite to listen to.”
Every great artist always has a wish list as to who they would love to play with. Williams is no exception.
“I’d love to work with Billy Cobham, the drummer and I would really love to do either a show or a recording project with Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic guitarist). That would be awesome. I got to hang out with Jack Pearson (formerly with the Allman Brothers) at NAMM this year. I’d love to play with Jack. That would be unbelievable. We actually talked about it a little. I invited him to come down and play on the next record when start recording and he said that he’d love to.
“Actually, when I met Jack, I had just finished watching him at this Muriel Anderson guitar show thing. Of course, he was amazing as he always is. As he walked off the stage, I saw him standing over by the exit door so I’m standing about seven or eight feet on the other side of the door. Jack comes through the door and he locks eyes with me. He looks at me and points at me and said, ‘I’ve seen videos of you.’ That blew me away! I literally looked for a soft place to land because I thought I was gonna faint! We got to talking and he said, ‘I’d like to jam with you sometime’ and I was, like, ‘Oh my god! I can’t believe he just said that!’ Seriously? Jack Pearson?”
What would he tell a young Lefty Williams out there who will be reading this interview who feels constrained by their physical limitations?
“The only limitations that you have are in your mind. You can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. My mom and dad always told me that growing up. I have three kids and my kids are wonderful children but none of them are too overly ambitious. It could just be that they’re in their early twenties/late teens and they’re just at that stage I their life that they just don’t care. But, to me, even at that stage in my life, I was still focused on being a musician. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been focused on being a musician. I always felt that anything that I want to accomplish, I can.
“So, long story short with that, I asked my mom one time, ‘How did you instill that in me? Because I want to figure out how to do that for my kids.’ I want them to have determination and drive like that. My said, ‘Son, you were born that way. It’s not anything your father and I did. You’ve always been stubborn.”
And what is on Lefty’s musical radar over the next one to five years?
“Definitely putting out new records every six to eight months. Like I said before, I’d like to tour over in the Midwest more. Being in the south and doing southern rock music, a lot of times, people in the south are - I wouldn’t say they’re kinda immune to it – but it’s like if you play southern rock, they’re like, ‘Dude, we’re from here.’ But when I get out to places like Texas and people go nuts over me. I get up to Cincinnati and people just go nuts over me. I feel like I’d like to get out of the south more and be not so much of a regional band but more of a national band. That’s a big goal. I have toured as far as Albany, New York, and Burlington, Vermont, and Toronto, Canada. And I’ve gone as far west as Flagstaff, Arizona, and as far south as the Virgin Islands. But I feel that I get warmer receptions up north and out west. I think a lot of that is because what I do is not something that they get to see and hear all the time. We’re inundated with it in Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. So that’s the big, long term goal is to get out and be more of a national band and get on the road more. I’d like to get to Europe in the next five years, too.”
As we wrapped up our chat, I asked how he hoped to be remembered when he’s gone to the great gig in the sky.
“Honestly, when people think about me years from now, I want them to say, ‘He was a nice guy. He was a good to people around him. He was friendly to everyone.’ I feel that I’m that person. If they said that I was a great guitar player, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings but it’s not my number one thing. Life is about people and it’s about relationships and being aware and present and experiencing this life and bringing consciousness into the world. That’s what I try to do.”
I don’t know about y’all, but I’m keeping my eyes on Lefty Williams. This man and his guitar are going places. Bet on it.
Follow Lefty and order his music at www.lefty-music.com.