I'd forgotten about Fort Worth rocker and soul man Jerry Lynn Williams until the other day when I was reading Eric Clapton's autobiography. Warner Bros. had returned Clapton's tapes from sessions in Montserrat and, to keep his Warner's deal, Clapton agreed the company should suggest songs they thought were hit single material. They sent him three songs by Williams: "Forever Man," "Something's Happening" and "See What Love Can Do." Clapton agreed to come to L.A. to record and says of his first meeting with Williams: "As soon as I met him, we got on like a house on fire. He was an incredible, larger-than-life character who looked like Jack Nicholson and sang like Stevie Wonder." While Clapton was not happy with the session results, he was with Williams. "What I really got out of it was the sheer joy of hanging out with Jerry Lynn Williams, though he was hardly the best influence I could have had at the time," Slowhand writes. "He was staying up at Shangri-La [studios] where I had recorded No Reason To Cry, and I went up and stayed there and played on some of his demos, and before I knew it I was off and running again, with prescription drugs and blow as well as alcohol."
In 1989, when Clapton began recording what he describes as one of his favorite albums, Journeyman, Williams was his songwriter of choice. Describing those sessions, Clapton writes, "Musically, I loved everything about him. He could be a little overwhelming in person, but that was entirely forgivable given the scale of his talent." Williams not only contributed mightily to Clapton's career, he also wrote songs for the likes of Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King. He also wrote "Tick Tock" with Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, which appeared on the Vaughans' 1990 album Family Style and was played at SRV's funeral. But this is only part of the Jerry Lynn Williams backstory. He quit school at 14 to play in a band and eventually got a gig working for Little Richard in the same band that included Jimi Hendrix (known in those days as Jimmy James). He eventually wound up back in Fort Worth and briefly backed Jimmy Reed. Williams eventually hooked up with fellow Cowtowner Delbert McClinton for McClinton's first hit single, "Givin' It Up For Your Love."
Williams had a chaotic career and life, subject to all the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle. He did manage to release Peacemaker, a solo album, in 1996. He eventually left L.A. to live on the island of St. Martin in 2003, and died there of kidney and liver failure in 2005.
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Why Should I Care?
An almost invisible presence on the music scene except to insiders, Williams not only wrote big-money hits, he was also an amazingly talented performer in his own right. Listening to his tracks on MySpace, one can only marvel at the lack of luck or amount of self-destructiveness it must have taken to keep this man from being an internationally known rock star. Where Are They Now?
Williams is dead. Essential Listening/Reading/Surfing Check www.myspace.com/jerrylynnwilliams to get a taste of some of the most bad-ass whiteboy funk you'll ever hear. A great feature by former Warner's exec and Houston good old boy Bill Bentley in the Austin Chronicle. An interesting memoir by Williams' high school friend Gary Wimmer. Clapton: The Autobiography