The music of Robert Pete Williams does more beyond telling a chain of personal and fictional stories. His music, like the works of great literary figures, is a life-breathing, transcendental product of experience. He perfected the effects of escape and dark satire in his work, which often has an almost supernatural quality.
Williams met a temporary fate brought on by violence and implied jealousy. Forced to defend himself in a scuffle at a bar, the bluesman shot a man to his death in 1955. The event resulted in a life term in Louisiana’s Angola prison.
Williams does, however, in his questionable immortality, own the exhilaration/burden of having fallen into unlikely circumstances that would make him distinguished. Music archivists Dr. Harry Oster and Richard Allen paid Williams a visit in prison, after hearing that a local blues legend was sentenced for murder. Records were cut, containing lyrics that delineated the stories leading up to and including the singer’s tenure in prison. A relationship flourished and soon an appeal was underway to strike the judgment against Williams. He was granted a full pardon in 1959, three and a half wasted years behind him.
>P?This self-titled reissue, originally issued on Ahura Mazda records, finds Williams, ten years later, surrounded by volatile states of affairs, both private and national. The somber “Farm Blues” is a recapitulation of Williams’ experiences working on a farm after his release. “I’ve been working on the farm/ All My Life,” he claims, a summation of the imitative confines of a parolee. His voice is both strong and tired, as from one who has resigned himself to an objectionable situation, all the while fueled by inner conviction. Although he did not serve in Vietnam, in “Vietnam Blues” Williams sings from the perspective and with the authenticity of a soldier who, carrying a machinegun, fights back the storms of moral credence. Other selections are as darkly convincing. Williams pulls you into his world with veracity.
These recordings were recorded in 1970 in his own home, where the familiar surroundings and implicit comfort made for strikingly real performances. Whether plucking acoustic guitar or sloppily grating with a bottleneck slide, Williams’ playing is wondrous and omnipresent. This thirty-year-old program of music sounds as if it was recorded yesterday.
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Personnel: Robert Pete Williams (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bottleneck)