A few years ago, The Savannah Morning News ran a feature story on local songwriter Greg Williams, that posed a provocative question with its headline.
Why isnt this man famous?
The clear insinuation was that Williams was deserving of serious attention by the listening public in general and the music business in particular. That Williams is a formidable singer, songwriter and guitarist is beyond doubt. His critically acclaimed indie albums easily attest to that.
But the idea that somehow a lack of mainstream notoriety has held him back in some way while seemingly logical on the surface, now appears (a few years on) to be something of a miscalculation.
For while Greg Williams is perhaps the farthest thing from a household name, he has over the course of a professional career that now spans two decades quietly and steadily plyed his craft, and now, that dedication and perseverance is finally starting to pay off in subtle ways.
To the average Savannahian, Williams name is probably not entirely unfamiliar, as hes played solo shows with just an acoustic guitar for years at any number of restaurants, nightclubs and outdoor events in our area, and his self-released albums have gotten about as much local airplay as one can reasonably expect on our overwhelmingly corporate radio dial.
However, since signing with an A-list management agency in Los Angeles a few years back, Gregs been making regular trips to Hollywood to play for and network with anyone he can, and hes been making a great deal of headway.
Hes also been penning a lot of songs.
Lately with going back and forth to California, Ive been spending a lot of time alone in strange hotel rooms, Williams offers, and its helped me to write.
You have a lot of time to just come up with ideas. I think Im starting to get a little addicted to that isolation, actually.
While the isolation of life on the road may be jumpstarting his muse, the prolific tunesmith who estimates he has written well over 100 songs that he considers keepers, and dozens more that are in various stages of development has also been finding plenty of inspiration through camaraderie.
Specifically, the camaraderie afforded by his current backing group, The Greg Williams Band.
While the singer has played with a number of groups in the past and with them a veritable whos who of top local rock and blues musicians this lineup (including guitarist Shane Baldwin, bassist James Mills, drummer Dwight Chance and percussionist Ross Sparks) has provided the most fruitful and versatile support that Greg has ever enjoyed, and this strong foundation is proving most helpful when it comes to composing new material.
Ive always tried to write around whoever I was playing with at the time and play to their strengths, says the singer. And with this group Ive definitely been inspired to come up with things I know they can do very well. For example, D.C. has a lot of different influences, like funk and jazz, and Ross is into world music, so Ive been leaning a bit more in those directions on some of the tunes.
That burst of creativity has also led Greg to concentrate on booking local shows with his band at least as much (if not more) than solo gigs an approach he has rarely taken in the past.
I havent felt this good about a band since I played with Powderfinger (an early 90s group featuring members of local alternative rockers City of Lindas). Now I have a band thats so good that I want to play with them every chance I get.
While he says its unlikely that this group could easily travel to Los Angeles or New York for the kind of showcase gigs that are often required, Greg says thats only a matter of logistics.
I would have no problem taking this group with me to California. The only problem is the money. Its so enormously expensive to go out there for a few weeks. I can barely do it on my own sometimes! But if there was a compelling reason, and the financial thing was right, Id take them out there in a heartbeat.
Baldwin says that he too feels a special musical bond between the members of this group, despite the fact that so far, none of them have appeared on any of the singers albums.
Theres only been one other band Ive ever played in that had the type of chemistry this band has, says the lead guitarist, who adds that playing with Williams has afforded him a great opportunity to stretch himself as a musician.
I was a fan of Gregs before I ever played with him. I watched him over the years with several different lineups, and I really like a lot of the CDs hes made. All sorts of great people played on those albums, like John Banks, Phil Hadaway, and The Swimming Pool Qs. Being able to put my own spin on that and present it onstage is a real thrill to me.
Meanwhile, Williams is dividing his time between paying the bills in Savannah as a working musician, and strengthening the connections he has made in Los Angeles. Connections that he realizes are almost unbelievably hard to come by.
Ive had a very unusual situation, he confides, and a lot of people havent been as lucky as I have. Ive gotten to places in the last year that I never could have planned. Im not really worried about money anymore. Im just trying to serve the songs, because theyre the most important thing.
If Id come home after this last trip to L.A. with a zillion dollars in my pocket, I dont know that I could have bought the kind of opportunities that I have now, or been able to work alongside the people that Im working with.
While Greg is careful not to name-drop too much (the inevitable result of past experience counting chickens before they hatched), he does allow that hes been cutting tracks with A-list engineer Greg Edenfield, whos currently working with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Kahn and Korn. In fact, one recent recording session took place in the basement studio of Korn bassist Fieldys Laguna Hills mansion.
Hes also collaborating with C.J. Vanston, the Grammy winning producer of the soundtrack for Christopher Guests hit musical comedy A Mighty Wind. Vanstons also produced albums for the likes of Joe Cocker, Barbara Streisand and Brian Wilson, but ironically for a dyed-in-the-wool hard rock fan such as Williams, hes also the keyboard player in Spinal Tap! The two of them are currently writing a song together at Vanstons request.
As if that werent enough, a number of Gregs older songs are being used in the soundtrack to the popular Canadian TV series The Eleventh Hour.
With so much happening for the singer on the West Coast, Williams is often encouraged to simply move there for the sake of his career. So far, hes resisted, saying Savannah is the only place he truly feels at home. Yet, he seems resigned to the fact that his fortune lies elsewhere.
I mean, not to piss anybody off, but theres only so much you can do in this town. Youve gotta enjoy it for what it is. Its a very beautiful place, but its obviously not where people go to hit the big time. Its where they go to hide out after theyve already made the big time. Hell, even Al Capone used to hang down here.
The Greg Williams Band plays a free show in the City Market Courtyard on Saturday, July 3rd at 8 pm. For more info: www.gregwilliams.com