to Jerry Lynn Williams 1948-2005
My name is
Gary L. Wimmer. Songwriter/vocalist
Lynn Williams and I were teenage friends, and
as young musicians
played together a lot in 1964 and 1965. We were
both lead guitarists, but unlike me, Jerry was
an exceptional singer - Hear
Jerry sing A WHITER SHADE OF PALE. He was recognized within the
music industry as one of the greatest R&B/Soul singers in the world, and became one of the
industry’s most prolific and successful
songwriters. His death on November 25, 2005 and Bill Bentley’s article in
the Austin Chronicle brought to
mind some of the crazy times Jerry and I
shared as young musicians in
Ft. Worth, Texas.
Jerry was a highly talented, intense character with an interesting blend of
contrasting qualities. He was blunt
and forceful, yet warmhearted and sensitive;
close and personal, yet distant and cold; clever and demanding, yet smooth as
glass; wild and frustrating, yet graceful and in
control. He was a free-spirited, independent
extremely confident artist with
a captivating personality, but he was also
a loner with an insatiable desire to connect
with people, often because he could also push them to their limit.
Like me, he was a Scorpio and an extremist in every way - the good, the
bad, and the ugly. And he was a unique, eccentric, and beautiful human
realized what a great singer he was the first
time we got together with some fellow
to form a band. We were trying to work out
different parts on ‘So Fine,’ an old
R&B hit with four-part harmonies. Jerry was not impressed by how the rest of us
were singing, and he wasn’t singing much,
just humming to himself... and smirking. As we struggled to stay
on key, he backed away from the
microphone and sat down.
part do you want?" I asked
guys figure out your
parts," he said.
"I’ll cover what’s left."
thought that was a rather cocky comment, and
Jerry could be cocky, but he knew what he was
doing. When the three of us finally got our
ragged voices to produce a tolerable semblance
of three-part harmony, I turned to Jerry again. "Want to join in?"
He shrugged and stepped up to the microphone.
We started the song again and began singing.
Then Jerry dove in.
Suddenly there was this beautiful and soulful
voice singing an octave above us, breathing
instant life into the song, crystallizing our
harmonies and encouraging us to sing
our hearts out. Even at sixteen Jerry could wail on
the guitar and sing with more passion and
conviction than most of the hit-makers of the
day. His amazingly high and clear voice always
turned heads and consistently sent chills up my
spine. And he didn’t sing in falsetto. He
sang in his natural range.
and I often found
ourselves in The
Celler, a beatnik/early-hippie hangout in
Ft. Worth, Texas.
We were too young
to even be in
there, but many times Jerry would hop on stage, sit in
with the mid-30’s musicians, and blow
audiences away with his powerful voice and
potent guitar riffs. On late night excursions driving through Ft. Worth
we would pass a bottle and
talk about music and life. I could see then how
much passion he had and how determined he was to become
a successful musician and share his soul with
the world. And did he ever!
One night during the summer of 1966, while I was on break from Texas Tech, I went to hear Jerry play at a club on Race Street in Ft. Worth. His voice had become even more soulful, and his guitar playing was tasty and inventive, as always. I sat in with him on a few songs, and during a break he said he had something important to discuss with me, something he couldn’t talk about at the moment. He aroused my curiosity, so we agreed to meet at a Dairy Queen in North Richland Hills a few days later.
"I need to make some changes," he said as the waitress left us our orders. "It’s not the band I want, and it can’t go anywhere."
We started cramming burgers and greasy fries into our mouths.
"You sounded pretty damn good to me," I said. "Especially with your voice."
"Thanks, but I want to make a move. Quit college and go to California with me. We work together well. Besides, California's the place to be. Let’s do it, man!"
I thought it over for a moment. "I’d love to go with you, but I’ll be 1-A if I don't I go back to college. No college deferment means I get shipped off to Vietnam. So... shit. I gotta pass. How are avoiding the draft?"
"Little medical thing." He took a few bites, then stopped in mid-chew. "Gary, does your dad still have that old 22 rifle?"
"Yeah. Why?" I should have seen it coming, knowing Jerry.
He swallowed and calmly replied, "Simple. Take it out this weekend and shoot yourself in the toe." Jerry made such a bizarre act sound as if it were equivalent to tuning a high E string or drinking a coke.
I gagged on my cheeseburger. "What! Are you nuts?" Jerry’s expression revealed he was dead serious. "Ahhh, not sure I want to go that far, Jerry, but thanks for the suggestion."
"I would if I had to." He pointed an imaginary rifle at his foot. "WHAM! It’s just one little toe. Problem solved... and you still have nine left."
"I like having all ten," I said. No doubt, Jerry would blast a toe off, even a few toes, if he had to in order to avoid soldierhood and get his musical career going.
Chewing away, another bolt of inspiration hit him like lightening. He swallowed a mouthful and started running down his next barrage of ideas as if calling the Fire Department to report several houses ablaze.
"I got it! Go do something weird and get arrested, then get your folks to send you to a psychiatrist. As soon as you see him start throwing stuff at him, or rolling around on the floor and screaming! Or start hunching his leg, anything to convince him you’re crazy or a homo. Show him you're just too screwed up to serve. No way the army will take you." Jerry gleamed with pride and downed more fries.
"Wow! Now that's a stretch."
"But one that’ll keep you out!"
"I couldn’t pull it off, Jerry. I’m not crazy. At least not yet, but your suggestions might nudge me in that direction."
"I hope so. Fuck! I understand. You gotta decide. It’s your life."
"As well as my toe, my criminal record, and my mental history."
"See, three easy ways out. And I can come up with more."
"I'm sure you can," I replied.
Jerry shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I’m going for it. Think it over. If you change your mind, let me know. We can get connected out there. I promise."
I thought his offer over for weeks. Jerry was an indeed an immensely talented musician and singer with enormous drive, and I knew he could make his way through any doors to get connected. But I was in perfect health and, short of following his suggestions, I had no way to avoid the draft other than to return to college. So I called him back and wished him luck. Soon Jerry was on his way. He got connected with the top people in the music industry at an early age, played with many of the world’s greatest musicians, and became an immensely successful songwriter.
After several appeals, I finally ended up getting conscientious objector status and worked at the Austin State School, then began playing music professionally, touring, and giving psychic readings. Decades later I looked back and wondered if one less toe (or more) would have really mattered that much. Or having a record, criminal or psychiatric. Besides, had I gone to California with Jerry I might have become a highly successful nine-toed sideman at a young age.
We saw each other a few times during the late 70’s and he updated me about his battles with Warner Brothers, his songwriting, and his performing. We touched base again when I lived in Copenhagen 1993-99 and he was working with Danish singer Hanna Boel. When Jerry left us in November of 2005 the world lost a great musician, songwriter and singer - a true one-of-a-kind man. But his music will live on forever, and we will always miss this creative, complicated and loveable human being.
Me, I lived the life of a working musician and a psychic, then began acting and writing. I think a lot about Jerry to this day. Strange, crazy, and intense as he was, he was also a beautiful, soulful and unique character. And his voice still sends chills up my spine. Keep singing, Jerry!
Jerry also angered many people and often pushed things too far. So as much as I admire Jerry for his creativity and drive, in all fairness, there are other sides to his story. See: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jayadkisson/2011/10/13/the-sad-last-ballad-of-jerry-lynn-williams-divorce-decree-fails-to-defeat-fraudulent-transfer-action/