By Jano Tantongco
While singer-songwriter Jack Williams can be most accurately described as a folk musician, he prefers not to confine himself to a narrow label.
“I’m a songwriter, I’m a man without a genre. I’m not trying to claim the high road here. I’m just saying straight out that I don’t have a clue. I don’t know how to fit into our culture’s need to fit into a genre,” said Williams, 72, who has collaborated with musicians like Peter Yarrow, Tom Paxton, Mickey Newbury, and Harry Nilsson.
Williams, who’s slated to play a show with fellow performers Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen on Saturday at The Congregational Church of Huntington, said he draws from a wide variety of styles including jazz, R&B, rock, classical and bossa nova.
In spirit, he sees the lineage of folk music deriving from the antiquated troubadours of 11th century Europe. He noted how they would travel with their lute saddled on a donkey, traveling from city-state to city-state.
“I live in my van when I travel. It might as well be a donkey,” he said.
The show, which will begin at 7:30 p.m., is part of the Folk Music Society of Huntington’s concert series, and promises to showcase some of Williams’ acoustic performances.The Congregational Church of Huntington is located at 30 Washington Drive, and tickets are $20 for society members, and $25 for non-members.
Karen Finkenberg, vice president of the folk music society, said she was introduced to Williams around 15 years ago during a house concert in Mount Sinai hosted by a friend. After hearing Williams’ music, Finkenberg asked him to perform at her own house concert.
Finkenberg called Williams “one of the best guitarists I have heard.”
“He just has an amazing style,” she said. “He’s so personable.”
Williams was born and raised in South Carolina, but has traveled extensively throughout his life.
His father served in the military. This led Williams to 17 different schools over 12 years. It was in 1958, while stationed in Fort Lewis in Washington, that Williams’ career in music began after he, two other high schoolers and three G.I.s formed a band called The Statesmen.
“I was lucky because in those days...rock and roll, R&B artists and their bands were either being drafted or joining up. They would all come to Fort Lewis,” he said.
Shortly after this, Williams attended University of Georgia, where his music further crystallized, and immersed itself into the eclectic culture of the ’60s. Williams studied at the university for nine years, ultimately earning bachelor’s degree in music and composition, and starting progress toward a master’s degree.
“Where I was at, University of Georgia, R&B and blues were our main music. To us, there was no other music at the time. John Lee Hooker, The Platters, The Drifters and The Coasters,” Williams said. “They toured all the time, played town centers, music halls. They didn’t always have a band.”
Because those traveling bands often did not have full bands, Williams said, he would act as a “hired gun” guitarist, performing with a variety of artists.
After playing in bars, restaurants, college campuses, and a variety of other venues, he began to shift toward creating a solo career for himself, eventually finding his way into the house concert circuit.
He felt that he could no longer play at a venue where his music was merely part of the background.
“It’s not my ego that I want to be the event. What I’ve discovered from performing, there's almost a one-on-one communication. I love house concerts, 40-50 people, just sitting dead quiet. I might not even be amplified,” Williams said.
To date, Williams has produced 10 albums through Wind River Records. Recently, he has been touring to promote his latest album, “Four Good Days,” which was released in 2014.