Tim Williams: Cowtown's Adopted Bluesman

By Richard White, January 26, 2014

Tim Williams won the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis on Saturday, January 25, beating out seven other solo/duo finalists.  To get to the finals, Williams had to perform twice in the quarterfinals and once in the semi-finals before a panel of three judges.  

Playing a combination of traditional blues songs by both well known and obscure bluesman, as well as his own compositions, Williams demonstrated he was the most well versed bluesman in the challenge (both solo/duo and band categories).  

Telling stories that only he could tell about the blues and picking on his well traveled mandolin and guitars, Williams impressed not only the judges, but the over 1,000 international blues fans who attended this year's Challenge. Williams carefully curated each of his performances with a focus on the Delta Blues which showcased his talents as passionate blues guitar player and historian. 

After listening to Williams play the first night, at the Jerry Lee Lewis bar's upper salon, the folks next to us from Springfield, Illinois quickly turned to us and said "Wow, he is very unique."  As the challenge continued we heard words like "authentic," "traditionalist" and "a true bluesman" used to describe Calgary's adopted bluesman. 

In presenting the 65 year old Williams with a new cigar-box guitar as the winner in the solo/duo category, Jay Sieleman, President & Chief Executive Office said "it's been a long time coming!"  In the Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper) Sieleman stated "I joked that our finals show was seven hours long and Tim Williams could do old blues songs for the whole seven hours. This guy is steeped in it big time." 

There were 250+ entries into this year's International Blues Challenge organized by The Blues Foundation.  Williams had very strong competition in the solo/duo category.  Erik Ray from the Granite State Blues Society put in a strong performance with his cowboy blues set.  Eighteen year old Matt Tedder is a rising star moving from Texas to Nashville in the past year to focus full-time on his music, rising from busker to winner of the Nashville Blues Society's competition this past year.  Wendy DeWitt and Kirk Harwood from The Golden Gate Blues Society presented the judges with a strong vocal and keyboard performance of original songs.

And, the runner-up Lucious Spiller from the Ozark Blues Society of the Northwest has a haunting blues voice that was captivating from the first note. In total Williams had to beat out 101 acts to win this years 2014 International Blues Challenge solo/duo performer. 

Note: Calgarians can enjoy Williams wit and guitar playing every Tuesday night at Mikey's Juke Joint starting at about 8:30 p.m. 

Tim Williams plays Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale Street to get into the finals. 

Tim Williams: Cowtown's Adopted Bluesman

By Richard White, April 2, 2013

Mother &(*(&^

Yes he does like to use the word “mother&#^*%” in his shows and loves to chat about the role drugs and sex play in blues music.  He like to tell the story of growing up in a small desert town in southern California next to the Mexican border listening to Wolfman Jack.  How small was the town? Tim says "when I was growing up you didn't lose your girlfriend to another guy, you just lost your turn!"

Last night I attended Tim’s launch party for his new CD “Blue Highway” at The Ironwood in Inglewood (Calgary’s funky historic and arts district) along with about 200 of his family and friends.  I felt a bit like a party crasher as my interest in the blues and Calgary’s indie music scene is only in its infancy – yes I am a late adopter (just got a PVR and don’t have a flat screen TV). 

YYC Blues Tribe

Over the past few years I have become fascinated by Calgary’s underground blues tribe and Tim seems to be its leader!  He is not only a great blues guitar player, but also good storyteller and a comedian.  His shows are very entertaining be it his regular Tuesday night at Mikey’s and Saturday afternoon gigs at the Blues Can or jamming’ with others when they are in town.

Last night he must have rattled off the names of 200 bluesman from Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters to friends like Big Dave Maclean.  He shared with us personal stories about singers, songwriters, guitars, family, friends and even some politics. 

Tim Williams kick of his "Blue Highway" CD launch party.

Wit & Cynicism

His mix of wit and cynicism has a bit of a Robin Williams skit to it. One minute he chastising people like Dylan who claim songs are theirs without recognizing they really originate in traditional folk and blues tunes – he seems to know all the lineages.  The next time he is telling us about why he had to learn Spanish i.e. so he could get invited to dinner at his Hispanic friends house and not get beaten up by the brothers of his Hispanic girlfriend. And then he breaks into a story about Pacheo music he learned growing up in a Mexican community in southern California.

Tim is encyclopedia of blues music history and always gives a short blues 101 before every song he performs.

Williams meets Johnson

On his website, www.cayusemusic.com it says “imagine, if you can, a front porch where Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Hula Hattie, Flaco Jimenez and Bob Marley meet often and discover just how much they have in common.  Tim’s music would fit right in.”  I can imagine this to be true.  I have a nice front porch maybe I should invite Tim to invite some friends over for drink and debate – could be very interesting. 

When was the last time you saw two accordion players on the stage at the same time at a blues concert.

Blog/Facebook

I encourage you to check out his blogs on facebook, as they are full of humour and insights into the life of bluesman living on the edge at 64. For example, here is what he says after he had to cancel at tour of Spain in the Fall of 2012 that was going to be an economic disaster - “But, by producing 2 other cds while working on mine, playing every gig that came along in Southern Alberta, and touring with Big Dave Mclean I’ve returned things to their normal, shaking footing.” 

Somebody needs to document Tim’s stories and experience they would make a great book or film.

Last night was bit of mind trip as Tim took us from the real Delta Mississippi blues to the Mexican Pachuco music he learned growing up in southern California, as well as his current live in Calgary and the prairies.  Interestingly on his website he doesn’t refer to himself as Calgary-based, but prairie-based.

I have often wondered if at some point the Canadian prairies or Calgary might produce a “place” inspired school of music, architecture or art like the Mississippi delta. Perhaps something that builds on the  "Wheatfield Soul" coined by the Guess Who, but could also apply to other Canadian prairie musicians - Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.  

When I recently suggested this idea to a buddy I was quickly told, “the American South still has music-making locked up. I wonder why Calgary or Alberta would even bother?  I realize with my kind of attitude, Bob Dylan would have never left Minnesota. But my question remains, WHY? How is it distinctive authentic to a time and place - that's what I want to understand in your blog - Tim Williams and onward.”

Cover of Blue Highway CD.

Place & Time

As an everyday tourist, the night was a wonderful trip back in time and yet I do have to wonder in this global world where everyone is listening to everyone else’s music will there ever be a distinctive sound that reflects a sense of “place and time.”

Tim can paint a picture, a sense of place and time, with words and music like nobody else I have every seen perform – but it is not our “time and place.”  However, it was an inspiration to move a road trip along Highway 61 up on my bucket list.  I need to see and understand what Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans has that we don’t.  I am off to Chicago – hope to get some insights there.

The Everyday Tourist

P.S. Want to learn more about Tim Williams check out Mike Bell, Calgary Herald Music writer's story about Tim's journey.

P.P.S.  I don’t know if Tim has a nickname, which all good bluesman must have. I have never heard one. I am throwing out Tim “Tequila” Williams even if he did drink red wine last night as I know from his stories that Tequila has been influential in his life. 

Tim Williams and friends jammin' at his party!