Google+ Followers

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Vern Williams born 9 December 1936

Vern Williams (born Delbert Lavern Williams, December 9, 1930 – June 6, 2006) is is one of the great unheralded masters of bluegrass music, a mandolin virtuoso who was a star in California throughout the 1960s,'70s, and '80s, and an influence on an entire generation of players and bands out there, but who is little known beyond the confines of the Golden State. His relative handful of recordings, either as a member of Vern & Ray in the '60s for Starday or leading the Vern Williams Band in the '70s, don't begin to indicate his importance to bluegrass music. 

Vern Williams grew up on a farm in rural Newton County, AR, part of a musical family in which both his parents and his six siblings, as well as most of his uncles, all played instruments, as well as singing at church. His first instrument was the guitar, and he played it until he was 17 years old and ordered his first mandolin from Sears. Williams' strongest influence was the music he heard over the radio, most notably the Grand Ole Opry and the songs of the Stanley Brothers and the Carter Family. But far and away the biggest source of inspiration in his early life was Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys, whom Williams listened to from the early '40s onward.
Following two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, ending in 1954, Williams moved to California. He lived in Stockton and earned his living in meat-packing plant, but in 1959 he returned to music after he met fiddle player Ray Park, a fellow Arkansan who'd moved west. The duo, known as Vern & Ray, thrived in California and became known as one of the best bluegrass outfits in the region, and they got a contract with Nashville-based Starday Records in the early '60s.

Vern & Ray, whose talents were augmented by banjo man Luther Riley and guitarist Clyde Williamson, cut four songs for Starday for a 1962 extended-play single release. This record was popular among bluegrass aficionados, but didn't sell, and the group found little opportunity to perform in Nashville, where traditional bluegrass outfits were usually kept at arm's length. They recorded a handful of additional sides before disbanding in 1974, and their later history was collected on the album Sounds from the Ozarks.

The young Jerry Garcia played banjo with Vern and Ray several times before he gained fame with the Grateful Dead. 

After the breakup of Vern and Ray in 1974, Mr Williams formed the Vern Williams Band with his son, Delbert, and young banjo player Keith Little, who later went on to play with Ricky Skaggs. The Vern Williams Band also was the backup band for country music star Rose Maddox in her last decade of performing before her death in 1998. 

Here's "Roll On Buddy" from above album.   Although one can usually take a title like "Traditional Bluegrass" with a grain of salt, Vern Williams means what he says. Amazingly, most of the tracks included on Traditional Bluegrass were recorded live at bluegrass festivals and live on the radio in 1982 and 1984.

The group continued to perform to enthusiastic crowds at colleges, festivals, and clubs in and around California, but as the '80s wore on, their bookings gradually slowed, and their performances became less frequent. Finally, in 1986, the Vern Williams Band ceased to exist. Keith Little later joined the Country Gentlemen. 

A videography about Vern was produced in 2004 and can be viewed at the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM) in Owensboro, Kentucky. His recordings are widely available. Vern's last performance was as a guest on Open Road’s Lucky Drive, recorded in 2005.

 Vern died June 6, 2006 at Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital in San Andreas (Calaveras County) of pneumonia.
Vern’s impact on bluegrass music, especially in California, cannot be overstated. He made several seminal bluegrass recordings, was recognized by the State of California by official acknowledgement and tribute in 1987 and by official commendation in 2001, received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Award of Merit, and was the first to be awarded an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the California Bluegrass Association. His song arrangements continue to be used by numerous bluegrass artists. (Info edited from itunes & Wikipedia)

Rose Maddox joins the Vern Williams Band in this video from the 1992 Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival. Keith Little was not available to play banjo that day. Video by Barry Brower.

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For Vern Williams Band - Traditional Bluegrass go here:

01 - Roll On Buddy
02 - Close By
03 - Montana Cowboy
04 - I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home
05 - Happy I'll Be
06 - Live And Let Live
07 - Bald Knob, Arkansas
08 - When The Golden Leaves Begin To Fall
09 - I Hear A Choo Choo Coming
10 - Can't You Hear Me Calling
11 - Traveling The Highway Home
12 - Love Me Darling Just Tonight
13 - In Despair
14 - I'm Going Back To Old Kentucky
15 - Darling Nellie Across The Sea
16 - Pig In A Pen