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Damn Right He's Got The Blues!
The history of Blues music is liberally populated with figures that just can't quite overcome their own worst character traits due to a variety of conscious choices. It's equally, if not more, populated with figures that have been ripped off blindly by unscrupulous record companies and even other artists.
Noted music photographer W.A. Williams, www.wawilliams.com, a.k.a. Billy Rose of the Blues/Soul group Billy Rose and BlueSoul, shares those traits, to a point. Where he departs from the "standard Blues story" is that his troubles, including a harrowing suicide attempt, weren't necessarily brought on by "conscious" choices as he has suffered through bipolar disorder through most of his 57 years. And the rip-offs he's dealt with haven't been through his music, they've been through unauthorized use of his photos, most specifically photos of his friend, Guitar Great Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a helicopter crash after a concert in 1990. "When Stevie died, it took the wind out of my sails, it shredded them. It pulled the whole mast down and I was in the crow's nest. Then there I was, floundering in some black sea," He and Vaughan shared a "spiritual connection" according to Williams.
His suicide attempt in 2002, followed a family disturbance and years of battling mental illness. The guilt and sadness he felt over Vaughan's death years before were certainly contributing factors. "I woke up and I was rock bottom emotionally and just thought, 'I can't take this pain,' " Williams says of that fateful day in 2002. "I swore that if I ever tried to kill myself I'd blow my brains out, but I didn't have a weapon (for just that reason). I did have tens of thousands of milligrams of very powerful medications. I should have never been found alive. I was living by myself, I shut the phones off, I put a sign on my bedroom door that said, 'Do not enter; call the authorities.' I wrote a five-page goodbye note, got a jug of water and started taking handfuls of pills. I went through every bottle. I had hundreds of pills. I took ninety thousand milligrams of one drug alone, it shut my kidneys down. I really wanted to die."
Someone was watching over Williams that day. Awakened by excrutiating stomach pain, stumbling to the bathroom, he received two calls after blacking out (he didn't think to unplug the phone in the bathroom.) Hearing his slurred speech, family drushed to his home finding him near death. Life Squad transported him to the hospital, where he had a six-day i.c.u. stay and, according to doctors, survived, having had little or no chance of doing so. His medications, taken, in massive quantities, became "organ killing drugs."
Meeting Williams these days, you'd know he's seen some hard times. With his massive forearms, close-cropped facial hair and white crew cut, he resembles Santa Claus... if Santa was a tattooed drill instructor instead of a red-suited toy maker. Williams has persevered.
After taking off a couple of years, that perseverance has led Williams to get himself and his band out playing again.
The band's name comes from the Soul, literally. "I am a Soul singer. 'Soul shakin' meant something to me as in a deep experience with God. To me, Music has always, not bordered on, but has been, a religious experience. It runs in my veins."
"He puts his heart and soul into every note he plays and sings," says friend, Jon Sheperd, head of 2nd Story Presents. "He has close ties to the absolute legends of the Blues world, and it's no wonder. You can't help but love him. His true beauty, however, is that he never flaunts those 'connections.' "
Another side of Williams' true beauty lies in his ability to sing from the depths of his Soul about the joy and sadness he has experienced throughout his life. His voice is the sound of a man that is able to keep the demons that chase him at bay, at least for the moment. And hopefully forever.
Dale Johnson/CityBeat Magazine