From the Archives: Paul Williams (2001)

Here’s the interview published 12 years ago with Paul Williams. It was Pat Thomas, I’m pretty sure, who suggested the title, and I saw no reason to dispute it. 

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The Godfather of Rock Criticism: Paul Williams

By Pat Thomas, with Christoph Gurk (August 2001)

Growing up in the late 1970s, there was very little available to read by legendary rock scribe Paul Williams. His books were out of print, old issues of Crawdaddy! were long gone, and Paul himself was M.I.A. for the most part. It wasn’t until Paul published his first major tome on Bob Dylan [Bob Dylan: Performing Artist] that I was able to get into the meat of what made Paul great. Here was a book about Dylan that didn’t worry about what color shirt he was wearing the day he recorded this song or that one. The book went past that bullshit and got into the essence of the music. How does it sound and more importantly how does it feel? Paul was able to explain feelings about Bob’s music that I didn’t know I had. And most importantly, although Paul’s writing was very personal, he left his ego at the door. Later when I met Paul, there was no ego, no “I am a rock legend” or “I know everything” attitude, that I have experienced time and time again from music journalists with far less to brag about than Paul Williams.

Paul, for many reasons, is not gonna be on MTV interviewing Pearl Jam, he’s not gonna blow hot wind in front of a video camera doing a documentary on the history of rock n roll–he’s just not that kind of guy. I strongly suggest you check out his revamped and reborn Crawdaddy!. No ads, no corporate sponsorship, just solid heartfelt writing. Paul’s writing has moved me to check out bands I never would have dreamed of checking out, because he brings the human element into it, gets inside of himself, seemingly getting inside of me. Now, I know this sounds all flowery and new agey, but Paul came out of the 1960s and he never lost his naiveté about listening to music; it still sounds fresh to his ears. He’s not some jaded hack on the staff of (fill-in-the-blank magazine) being forced to listen to crap he doesn’t wanna listen to, he only reviews what he really likes and what truly moves him. I think that’s rare these days.

One of Paul’s faves is Neil Young, who I personally have given up on (though I applaud his commitment to keep waving the flag). Nevertheless, it’s a Neil Young song title that sums up Paul Williams for me, and that’s “Mr. Soul.” What follows is a previously unpublished interview I did with Paul in a café in Germany a couple of years back. (Also joining us was Christoph Gurk, who at that time was editor of Germany’s most respected, if overly scholastic, music magazine, SPEX).

So what does Paul have to brag about, but doesn’t? The man started the first real rock music magazine, Crawdaddy!, while still a teenager–a year-and-a-half before Jann Wenner startedRolling Stone. Via Crawdaddy!, he gave a lot of other “legends” their first writing outlet: Sandy Pearlman, Peter Guralnick, Jon Landau, and Richard Meltzer, to name just a few. He also hung with Tim Leary and sang with him on John and Yoko’s “Give Peace A Chance” single, recorded in a Montreal hotel room in 1969. If you ever get a chance to see the video from that day, Paul’s clearly in it…I could go on all day. He’s the man. Long may he run.

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Something New: The Birth of Crawdaddy!


Pat Thomas:   Why don’t we just start at the beginning: How you first got into writing. Were you doing any fiction or non-fiction writing before you actually started writing about rock ‘n’ roll?

Paul Williams:   Well, not really, I was writing high school term papers or something like that, but I usually say that I got started as a professional writer by publishing myself, because when I started Crawdaddy! I didn’t have anyone else writing for me so I had to write all this stuff to fill up the pages. And it took a while, but after all I got a sense of what I wanted to do, you know? And I started sounding more like something that was really me. My first publications outside ofCrawdaddy! were either, like, Hit Parader reprinting something from Crawdaddy!, and then other magazines calling me up because Crawdaddy! was starting to get attention.

Christopher Gurk:   That was ’66, right?

Paul Williams:   Yeah, the first issue came out at the end of January in 1966.

Pat Thomas:   And how old were you then, Paul?

Paul Williams:   17.

Pat Thomas:   How did you get the idea? This was really the first rock magazine or fanzine…

Paul Williams:   In the States, yeah.

Pat Thomas:   So how did you dream this up?

Paul Williams:   Well, there were two big influences on me. One was that I’d been a science fiction fan and was used to putting out magazines. When I was 14, I put out my first science fiction fanzine, and there was a whole community of people doing that, and I put that out for a couple years. You know, mimeograph stencils and writing your own magazine seemed normal to me coming out of that world. The other influence was, when I started Crawdaddy! I was at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, I’d grown up in Cambridge and the Boston suburbs, and there was a very active folk scene, and of course there were folk music magazines…

Continue reading “From the Archives: Paul Williams (2001)”

Paul Williams, Crawdaddy Editor, at Peace at Last

A message from Cindy Lee Berryhill, singer-songwriter and wife of Paul Williams, was posted earlier this morning on her Facebook page, an update from the previous night: “Rock-writer Paul S. Williams, author and creator of CRAWDADDY magazine, (and my husband), passed away last night 10:30pm PST while his oldest son was holding his hand and by his side. It was a gentle and peaceful passing.” … Continue reading Paul Williams, Crawdaddy Editor, at Peace at Last

From the Archives: Richard Riegel (2001)

Richard Riegel: From Jester to Lester

By Steven Ward (March 2001)

There was a time when Richard Riegel worried about his idolization of a friend. Worshipping a friend, co-worker and colleague doesn’t really sound too healthy, but in Richard’s case, I think we can forgive him.

The object of Richard’s devotion was the late rock critic Lester Bangs. Although fans of rock journalism have much to praise in Lester’s writing, we can also thank him for nurturing the writing of Richard Riegel. If it wasn’t for Bangs’s inspiration, Richard probably never would have submitted his first review to Creem magazine–home to Riegel’s musings throughout the ’70s and ’80s.

Funny, irreverent, and dead-on perfect with his observations on pop culture, music, and the people who love rock and roll, Riegel’s writing continues to stand out from the pack. Consider his opening to this recent review from the Village Voice on the My So Called Band CD, The Punk Girl Next Door:

“Once upon a time, the sight of a punk girl moving in next door might have sparked a neighborhood watch for the barricades of cultural revolution. By today’s grim revolt-into-product times, the lights are on next door, but the punk girl’s not home; she’s started up a dotcom offering real-time textual analysis of Jerry Springer’s ‘Final Thought’ homilies for a fee. So much for intellectual-property values on your street.”

Riegel, a married family man who worked for years in the welfare trade in Cincinnati, writes in a voice full of wit and outrageousness; his use of the language can be as rock and roll as both Bangs and Richard Meltzer at their best.

From his musical obsessions (such as Arthur Lee’s Love) to his “psychic struggles” with writer Greil Marcus, Riegel discusses his craft, his years at Creem, his current writing gigs (which include the Voice and his own Loose Palace fanzine), and of course, the man who inspired him in the best way–Lester Bangs.

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Richard Riegel

Steven:   You have never made any bones about your worship and idolization of Lester Bangs. Do you feel justified about it looking back on the year 2000–the year a Lester Bangs biography appeared, the year he was portrayed in a movie about rockwriting, the year this web site about rock critics took off?

Richard:   Yeah, more than justified–not because Let It Blurt and Almost Famous made Lester a media fetish of sorts for a hot minute or two last year, but because I want his memory and his writing (both infinitely influential on me) preserved for the ages, whatever it takes to do that. I was slightly embarrassed for years, even after Lester died, that I’d always loved the guy so much, but when Rob O’Connor did his special Bangs issue of Throat Culture in 1990, I found out that my feelings weren’t unique at all–almost everybody who’d been touched by Lester, either by his writing or by his personality, felt that same intense affection. He had an unusually charismatic soul.

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From the Archives: Lester Bangs (1980/2001)

Everyone’s a rock critic: The lost Lester Bangs radio interview

In 1980, following the release of Blondie, Lester Bangs was interviewed for a radio program called “News Blimp.” A copy of the tape was sent to me anonymously by someone who “fished it out of the garbage.” The interviewer is unknown, and my searches online for “News Blimp” also pulled up nothing. I’ve been advised by someone who was close to Bangs that there’s really no issue with my running it on this site, especially given that the source is a mystery. (And yes, it’s the real deal.)
– Scott Woods, 2001

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Interviewer:   First let me ask you if it was difficult writing a biography without the help of the people that you were writing about?

Bangs:   You know, in a way it was and in a way it wasn’t because there’s something that happens when you get the collaboration, or the cooperation, of the people you’re working with; all of a sudden you’re on their side, they take you into their confidence and you’re all buddy-buddy, and you’re almost like a recruit to the cause. Whereas if you have absolutely no cooperation at all, then you know that you at least can maintain your objectivity, you know?

Interviewer:   Lester, is this the first book you’ve written?

Bangs:   Yeah…Well, I wrote a novel in 1968 when I was in junior college called Drug Punk about drinking Romilar cough syrup, but this is the first book I’ve written that’s been published.

Continue reading “From the Archives: Lester Bangs (1980/2001)”