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Guitar hero: Lefty Williams 

Atlanta's one-handed wizard defies strict categorization

With the plethora of electric blues guitarists in the South, it’d be reasonable to assume that Lefty Williams — an ax–wielder of considerable flame — belongs in that hardscrabble category.

For three or four years now, the Atlanta–based Lefty Williams Band has been onstage at every juke–joint and roadside honky–tonk from here to Biloxi, often sharing the stage with top–billed blues combos.

Listen more closely, though. Although Jason “Lefty” Williams knows his way around big–bad–blooz riffery, and can shred your soul with his guitar, he’s got serious rock ‘n’ roll chops.

“A lot of the newer stuff I’ve been writing is trending more in the direction of harder–edged Southern rock, like Gov’t Mule–type stuff,” Williams, who returns to the Live Wire Music Hall Friday, reports. “It’s Led Zeppelin–type material. I kind of straddle the fence. Half the stuff I write is funky–sounding, and half is more harder–rock sounding.

“I’ve always said that I’m musically schizophrenic; I can’t stick to one thing for too terribly long.”

Williams, 35, has been absorbing music since his fetal days – when his mom was pregnant with him, Dad held headphones to her belly and played the Yes Fragile album. He discovered Zeppelin, the Beatles, Hendrix and the Dead as a youngster, and was playing prog–rock and high–speed metal as a teenage band member.

“I’ve always known, my whole life, that I was going to be a musician,” he says.

Williams was born without a right hand – yep, that’s where he got the nickname Lefty – but learned to pick, pluck and strum guitar with a homemade device strapped to the “nubb” (his word) of his elbow.

He never saw this as a handicap, even when he played string bass in his high school orchestra (where he learned to read and write music).

“I used to have a prosthetic hook,” he says, “and if I used a German–style bow, it held the bow just perfectly. So I never had any problems with the bow, but I got tired of wearing that thing probably around the 9th grade. I didn’t like carrying it around and I didn’t like wearing it all the time. So I would show up for orchestra and I would want to pluck everything, which would really, really upset my conductor.”

He graduated with honors from the Atlanta School of Music, and subsequently accepted a teaching post there.

The stage beckoned.

The first Lefty Williams album, Big Plans, appeared in 2006. It was followed two years later by Snake Oil. Both were produced by John Keane (R.E.M., Widespread Panic), and both were critically acclaimed.

Said Relix Magazine: “He sounds like he could be the next link in the chain of legendary Georgia guitarists, after Duane Allman and Robert Cray.”

Like the best guitarists, confident in their ability and tone, Williams stands pretty still onstage. No posing or histrionics for him.

“I’ve never really been one for flashy stuff,” he explains. “I don’t know why. I know all these other guitar players who’ll flip the guitar behind their head, do this, do that.

“I can do all that stuff — I can play with my teeth, or my tongue. But I kind of feel like it’s somebody else’s shtick and I don’t want to do it.”

However. “I got this new bass player (John Tirone) with me who’s got more energy than a room full of ADD kids. He never turns off, ever. He’s on like 110 miles an hour, 24 hours a day. But he’s awesome onstage; he’s got the biggest grin you’ve ever seen in your life, and he’s bouncing around like a frickin’ Superball.

“Every once in a while he’ll get a wild hair, and the next thing you know we’ve all got our instruments behind our head, doing stupid stuff. But it’s a lot of fun. And, he’s a smokin’ bass player, too. It doesn’t hurt that he’s really good.”

The four band members like to talk about music (when they’re not playing it). A favorite back–and–forth is a variation on Desert Island Discs — in other words, what records would you take with you if you were to be stranded on a desert island?

“For me, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy is Number One,” says Williams. “I couldn’t exist without that record. I can listen to that album — and have — for a whole year non–stop.

Jimmy Page, of course, had two hands to work with. Lefty Williams is building a musical house all his own, with the tools he was given.

Some people, Williams confesses, still come to his shows curious about the “one–handed guitar wizard.” But not all that often.

“Actually,” he says, “I’ve found that most people show up because they’ve heard that the music was cool and the show was fun.”


The Lefty Williams Band

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.

When: 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11

Opening: Phantom Wingo

Cost: $8

Artist’s Web site: www.lefty–music.com

 

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About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

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Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.

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