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Jerry Lynn Williams: 1948 to 2005

Jerry Lynn Williams was the best songwriter you've never heard of. Though he stayed under the radar as far as the public was concerned, musicians and composers knew the Texas cat as the song doctor. Williams, who passed away November 25 at age 57 on the island of St. Maarten from liver and kidney failure, wrote hits for Eric Clapton ("Running On Faith", "Pretending", "Anything For Your Love", "No Alibis", and "Breaking Point" -- all on Clapton's Journeyman album), Bonnie Raitt ("Real Man" and "I Will Not Be Denied" were on Raitt's Grammy-winning Nick Of Time), Jimmie & Stevie Vaughan (he helped write "Tick Tock"), Delbert McClinton ("Givin' It Up For Your Love" and "Sending Me Angels"), B.B. King ("Standing On The Edge Of Love"), and Clint Black ("The Hard Way"), among others.

Raised in Fort Worth singing gospel, he came of age at the Skyliner Nightclub, where, as a teenager, he booked acts including Jimmy Reed, Ike & Tina Turner, and Ray Charles. He left Texas for the west coast with Little Richard's band; out there, he understudied with a black guitarist known as Jimmy James who later became famous as Jimi Hendrix.

Williams headed up a small mafia of like-minded music people from Fort Worth and elsewhere in Texas including McClinton, Glen Clark and Stephen Bruton. He cut a colorful figure around town, sometimes appearing in a cape, throwing wild parties and consorting with the porn actress Seka. He embraced faith on numerous occasions but also was inclined to backslide and go on extended benders, earning him the nickname the Twisted Christian.

"Nobody had a direct connection into the music of the spheres like Jerry Williams," said Bill Bentley, director of publicity at Warner Bros. Records. "It's like he had a hotline to God, who would pipe him melodies that he could turn into mini-masterpieces at will. I've got a whole box of his demos on cassettes, and every single song is a true chillbumpber. Jerry had The Gift."

Williams spent most of the 1990s in Leonard, Oklahoma, near Tulsa, living on a lavish estate overlooking the river with a recording studio, wine cellar and landing strip -- his escape from Los Angeles.

His considerable songwriting talent overshadowed his own recordings, which were released sporadically over a 40-year span. One album, Down Home Boy, issued in 1971 on Spindizzy/CBS (which was run by David Briggs, Neil Young's future producer), was one of the first to effectively merge country and rhythm & blues in a rock 'n' roll context to create progressive country music and still come out sounding both credible and soulful. That ability might have come naturally to a generation of white boys who grew up in Fort Worth and Dallas, but no one did it better or lived it harder than Jerry Lynn Williams.

Author Joe Nick Patoski
Other tags Issue #62