Notes on a Fellow Traveler

My first exposure to Williams’ way with words, insight and ardor came in his brief liner notes to the American edition of Procol Harum‘s second album, 1968’s Shine on Brightly. “This is a wonderful record, kind of a letter from a friend I guess,” he wrote, going on to suggest an intriguing exchange of influences between that British group and the Band’s Music From Big Pink. “Procol Harum is … Continue reading Notes on a Fellow Traveler

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

There is little

Critical language has for the most part been borrowed from other fields — few writers have been able to shake their liberal arts educations. The few new terms (tight, together, heavy) are vague and undiscriminating. A rock erudition has been established, and writers talk casually of ‘influences’ and ‘development,’ but it is all very distant. There are more reviewers, whose main function is commercial, than … Continue reading There is little

Critical Collage: Sgt. Pepper

Seven months ago it was 45 years ago today. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – “Like an overattended child, this album is spoiled. It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises, and a 41-piece orchestra.” – Richard Goldstein, review of Sgt. … Continue reading Critical Collage: Sgt. Pepper

For The Benefit of Mr. Williams

Paul Williams’ benefit at San Francisco’s Red Devil Lounge last month did not disappoint in either attendance or musical performance. In fact, it brought all sorts of folks together who know the distinguished scribe and Crawdaddy originator or played together during the Bay area punk scene. Deborah Iyall (Romeo Void lead singer and solo artist) and Dramarama’s John Easdale were in attendance as were new … Continue reading For The Benefit of Mr. Williams

Paul Williams Website and Support Fund

From Paul Williams Website and Support Fund: In 1995, Paul Williams suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle accident, leading to early onset of dementia, and a steady decline to the point where he now requires full-time care. The pressure on his immediate family has been immense. Our purpose in creating this site is to ask for your help, in the form of contributions … Continue reading Paul Williams Website and Support Fund

This Month in Rock Writing: Bangs, Kent & Williams

Paul Williams’ book, Outlaw Blues, has an interview conducted with Doors producer Paul Rothchild, from March 1967, after the band’s first record release. It has to be the most unspoiled interview since nearly all of the infamous lizard king shenanigans have yet to occur. The following year, in “I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent: The Death of Frankie Lymon,” Bill Millar writes a lovely obituary for … Continue reading This Month in Rock Writing: Bangs, Kent & Williams