Jimmy Williams: Blue Water Drifter, Part 3

One of Southeast Michigan’s best-known country artists of the 20th century, Jimmy Williams promoted stars of Nashville on radio and in person during the 1960s. Click here to view Part 1. Click here to view Part 2.

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Jimmy Williams and Jeff Stark on stage, 1968

Jimmy Williams (left) and Jeff Stark on stage at Dutch’s Lounge in Port Huron, Michigan. Source: Craig Maki, via February 1968 edition of the Michigan Supplement – Music City News

In 1964, local producer Kit Wright hired Williams to make a record for the Glenn label based in Hammond, Indiana. With guitarist Tracey White, he cut “New Memories For Old” and “Jimmy’s Yodel” at Sound Inc. studios. “I’d go around to some of these bars where people I knew would play, like Frankie Meadows, who used to play down in Hazel Park [at the Wayside Bowling Lounge],” said Williams. “I’d go down there and they’d get me up to sing, and I’d always have to do the yodel. So one night I was at one of these bars when Kit Wright said, ‘I’d like to record you’.”

Williams started the “JW” label around 1965, on which he issued more sides by himself, including two songs written by local singer Hank Martin: “Two’s A-Plenty – Three’s A-Crowd” and “Revenge,” two classic honky tonk anthems about drinking and broken-hearted love that appeared on Williams’ first JW single.[1]

In January 1966, the newly formed Michigan Country Music Association, led by Jack Wilkerson, Jim Mitchell, and Frankie Meadows, among others, honored Williams as “Country Music DJ of the Year.” Williams was working at WDOG Marine City when he accepted the award at an event in Burton High School, east of Flint. The Rhythm Rustlers also received an award for “outstanding showmanship and devotion to charitable assistance when called on for benefit shows.” [2]

High on the hog

One of Jimmy Williams’ best performances appeared on Howard Walker’s “Walker” label in 1966. With his brother Russ Jr. singing harmony and slapping a doghouse bass, Williams sang “High On The Hog.” His most rocking recording, the tune was cut without drums, with tambourine and a swinging guitar filling out the rhythm. Walker’s colorful lyrics celebrated a workingman’s life:

"High On The Hog" by Jimmy and Russ Williams, Walker 118

I give the man a dollar on my ’55 Ford
Then I’ll be on my way
I pick up my little Susie and head for town
We live high on the hog payday

High on the hog payday
High on the hog payday
I gotta eat beans all through the week
But live high on the hog payday

The record’s A-side, “Looking Through The Tears,” a song about lost love, presented a shuffle similar to Ray Price’s late 1950s hits. The single was attributed to Jimmy and Russ Williams, as if they were a single act. However, Russ Jr. was working at the Starlite Inn, in Utica, with his band fronted by singer Steve Glenn from Sarnia, Ontario, while Jimmy continued working with the Rhythm Rustlers at Dutch’s Outpost in Port Huron.

Listen to: Jimmy and Russ Williams – High On The Hog

On August 14, 1966, Russ Williams Jr. and his wife Gloria died while returning home from a vacation in Nashville. A car struck their pickup truck head-on at the Fort Street exit ramp from Interstate 75 in Detroit.

Two weeks later, the owners of the Starlite Inn held a jamboree in honor of Russ and Gloria Williams. Top C&W entertainers of Southeast Michigan shared the stage in support of the Williams family. Eddie Jackson, Swanee Caldwell, Patti Lynn, Frankie Meadows, and Jess Childers, to name a few, performed from noon into the evening. The club owners estimated one thousand people visited throughout the day. Jimmy Williams kicked off the proceedings with his band.[3]

"Looking Through The Tears" by Jimmy and Russ Williams, JW 103

One of Williams’ last singles on “JW” served as a memorial to Russ and Gloria Williams. He reissued “Jimmy’s Yodel,” one of his most requested songs, backed with “Looking Through The Tears.”

WSMA = WSM Action

Williams’ influence on country music in the Blue Water region manifested itself in WDOG radio’s next set of call letters, WSMA, adopted by a new owner in 1967. “Dick Sommerville of Port Huron bought WDOG and changed its call letters to WSMA,” he said. “I suggested … that he change the call letters to WSMA, to kind of [mimic] WSM in Nashville. … They were playing big band music up ’til twelve o’clock in the day, and they’d switch over to country music at twelve until sign-off. At that time, they had sign-off at sunset. They’re a thousand-watt station.” Sommerville decided to broadcast country music at sign-on until 12:30 p.m., filling out the rest of the schedule with pop music delivered with “all new total action,” as station advertisements read.

Williams mixed blues, country, square dance calling, and comedy in his shows. Besides playing music every night at Dutch’s Outpost in Port Huron, Williams and his band broadcast their Sunday matinee performances live on WSMA, until about 1972 when Mathieson turned over management of the nightclub to her son. “We had no problem,” said Williams. His new band, the Country Dukes, found a new booking right away at Brody’s Bar in Port Huron.

He cut a 45 rpm single “Loose Talk” b/w “Stompin Steel” (featuring Whitey Cutcher) on Sound Inc.’s label (Sound 283) and followed it with an album of old favorites, including Eddy Arnold’s “I Walk Alone,” which he used as the title of the record. Around 1975 he pressed an album collection of old recordings.

 

1966WSMA radio advertisement

1966 WSMA advertisement featuring a portrait of Jimmy Williams, from the pages of the Michigan Supplement – Music City News

 

Although Williams’ vocal style remained heavily influenced by the music of his youth – country singers who projected their voices for dancers in halls and crowded bar rooms – when called upon by his audiences he could croon in the style of Dean Martin, and rock’n’roll like Carl Perkins. During the 1970s, Williams kept up with the times, as songs such as “Proud Mary” (learned from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s hit version) came into his repertoire.

As late as the mid-1980s, WSMA aired performances of Williams in local nightclubs such as the Ebb-Tide Lounge in New Baltimore. In 1987, Sommerville sold WSMA. “I left the radio station in 1988,” he said, adding he had no regrets. “I’ve enjoyed it.”

WSMA radio’s geographic position was such that its signal barely reached Detroit and Flint, major hubs of country music activity. Although Williams tied his career to this conundrum, he made a comfortable living in the Blue Water region.

After leaving radio, Williams worked in construction near his home north of Richmond, Michigan. “Every once in a while I get together with Ted Pavlik and the Polka Boosters down at the Belle River Lounge,” he said. “Once a month they have a meeting, and [they] bring their instruments and we get up. They get up and play, and I get up and sing.”
 

Author’s update: Jimmy Williams passed away Nov. 1, 2016.

 

Notes

  1. Williams also issued a single by Glenda Wolfe, “Early Bird” backed with “Oh Bright Moon.” “Early Bird” recently turned up on a European rockabilly compilation CD by Buffalo Bop titled “Restless Doll.”
  2. “Williams Award Winner” Billboard (January 22, 1966. Vol. 78, No. 4), 42.
  3. Norm Childs. “Memorial Tribute Paid To Detroit Area Artist Russ Williams” Music City News – Michigan Supplement (October 1966. Vol. 1, No. 1) 1B, 10B.

 

16 Comments to "Jimmy Williams: Blue Water Drifter, Part 3"

  • March 14, 2015 at 3:21 pm #

    I would love to get an update on Jimmy. We go way back and I haven’t seen him since the 60’s. If you can put me in touch with Jimmy, please do so.

    Sincerely,
    David Rowe Rohelier

    P.S. Thanks for all the great articles, expecially this 3-part series.

    • March 14, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      Thank you, David! Unfortunately, the number I have for Jimmy has been disconnected. This bio should have been in the book, but it (and several others) was cut due to space constraints. Best wishes, Craig Maki

    • Joy Jean Fleming
      March 19, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

      Hey David, I also would love to get an update on Jimmy Williams. He was a huge part of my musical career. I also recorded at his studio when I was just 12 years old. All good memories!! Thanks Jimmy!

      • January 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

        Joy Jean I did some shows with you years ago though Id say Hi

        • Diane Blevins Sanders
          March 2, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

          My dad, Fain Blevins, recorded on Walker Records. He was good friends with Jimmy Williams too. I sang with him many times at Dutch’s and other venues. I remember Joy Jean, and Walt Cunningham. Great memories. My mom and dad are living in Florida now, and Dad is still entertaining whenever he can.

          • March 3, 2016 at 9:33 am #

            Wow! Very cool, Diane. Thanks for sharing your memories! Nice to hear your dad is still active, too.

          • Jimmy Williams Jr.
            November 2, 2016 at 11:08 pm #

            Hey Diane, it’s little Jimmy. Really cool to hear stories about my dad. I still have the old 45 of Jimmy’s yodel and other records. Some were recorded in my living room when I was 4-5 years old.

  • March 22, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    Hear Rocky Corry and the Rhythm Rustlers, William “Bill” Bettridge, lead, Whitey Cutcher, steel, Jeff Stark, bass, Richard Cutcher Drums https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwIc7YjkI5k

    • March 22, 2015 at 10:43 pm #

      Thanks, Kris. Looks like the same band personnel Jimmy Williams played with at Dutch’s. Seems like Rocky Corry led the band for a while. For readers of the blog, the record referred to was issued on the Peak label.

      • March 22, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

        I am curious. I was told by Jeff Stark years ago they recorded this in detroit but it says peak nashville tn. would love to know more. ive tried to get in touch with the drummer richard but to no avail.

        • Jimmy Williams Jr.
          November 2, 2016 at 11:31 pm #

          I grew up watching them play, Jeff was like an uncle to me. I believe much the recording were recorded in the living room.. But some of the really old stuff might have been recorded downtown.

  • Jack Meirow
    May 28, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

    Greetings!
    You mentioned A large house Jimmy Williams used as the Colonial Hall. That was originally a school house. My older brothers went to school there. I worked for Jimmy cleaning the Hall during the week earning a couple of bucks and admission on Saturday nights. I lived directly across Mound Rd from Colonial Hall. My family had a 40 acre farm and a Texaco gas station.I hope that Jimmy is well. He was good to me.

    • May 30, 2016 at 11:06 am #

      Thanks for the info about Colonial Hall, Jack! Next time I speak with Jimmy I’ll give him your kind regards.

      • Jimmy Williams Jr.
        November 2, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

        Craig, I know I wasn’t mentioned in this article, but my dad was married to Mary Sharpe, kids Vicki and Jimmy Williams. He passed away this past Monday, November 1st. We hadn’t talked in years, but he was the reason I became the man I am today. I wrote this song about him. He will be greatly missed.

        https://youtu.be/Ud0bvDSBhxA

        Funeral info

        Karrer Simpson in Port Huron viewing Thursday 2 to 4 pm and 7 to 9 pm. Viewing Friday 9 to 11 am with a service at 11.

        • November 2, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

          Thank you for the updates, sir. I appreciate the link to your song about your dad. My sincere condolences.

          • Jimmy Williams Jr.
            November 2, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

            Thanks Craig, he was a good man, I appreciate these great memories you raised back up in my head. I remember being at WSMA in studio with him as a little guy and helping him set up the gear for the weekend sets at Broadway in Port Huron. I learned to play and sing because of him. Thank you for the great article and pictures. Take care Craig

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