Call of the Valley: Bob Williams on songwriting, journey as a musician

Shelly Frome
Call of the Valley
Bob William and his wife Shelley settled on the Black Mountain area because of the vibrant music scene and hiking.

Going through the usual teenage angst in Massapequa, Long Island, Bob Williams began keeping a journal, writing about such concerns  as “Why me?” and “What’s this life all about?” Eventually, he discovered creating song lyrics while backing himself up on the guitar was a more satisfying way to release his pent-up feelings.   

“Writing a journal just naturally turned into songwriting,” Williams said. “I was the geeky kid with thick glasses; my younger brother always got picked to play ball, not me. I had to find my way. So I switched to noting things I picked up on, like comments I heard, outlooks, relationships and putting words and music to it, which has never stopped.”

Later on, when he found himself single once more between the ages of 30 and 40, he changed his approach and began putting himself in another person’s place. This new tactic afforded him endless material based on what others were going through. He also came across common expressions that could be turned into a song like “Closing time.” Once, while dating a woman around his own age, he discovered she was also dating a 60-year-old man. He wanted her to make a choice, couldn’t confront her directly and, on a whim, wrote “Baby, what’s on your mind?”

At a certain juncture, he began to realize he was never going to become a full-fledged musician. He could, however, form his own band which expanded his horizons along with running his own marketing business, both capitalizing on his good-natured ability to get along with people.

“And so, I came to terms," Williams said. "How you generally think something is good but you’ve got to test it and play it out. How I now felt better about myself and what I was offering and how to gauge it. For my music, the result was no longer myself but only a piece of myself. In fact, as a sales guy wanting people to like me, I used to introduce a number saying it’s not about me. Then a lady in the audience said that was a great title. So that night I wrote the song.”

Eventually he and his wife moved to Fort Myers, Florida, and the next phase of his development took place when he encountered the Americana Music Association, a professional not-for-profit trade organization dedicated to the advancement of American roots music, working with artists, radio stations, record labels, publishers and others to create networking opportunities. This put Williams in contact with some 80 singer/songwriters and crystallized his long cherished image of “a guy with a guitar, harmonica and a story” -- shades of James Taylor and Jackson Browne. Bob Williams had now truly evolved given, at long last, his “wheelhouse” and newfound peers feeding off one another and solidifying his own identity as an entertainer.    

In addition to making recordings, his present day circuit of original music includes house concerts close to his home by Lake Tomahawk and nearby like Kathy and Kenny Phillips’ “Secret Garden” offering concerts from spring to fall, hosting a wide variety of musicians including Steep Canyon Rangers.

As for William’s residence in Black Mountain, he and his wife Shelley settled on this area because of the vibrant music scene and hiking.

“For starters, my wife and I wanted to be within 20 minutes of Asheville and needed a place to rent that would allow two dogs," he said. "Every day we would come home and just walk around Black Mountain and more and more loved its vibes. First of all, it was liberal. Then walking through the streets around town there was a calmness and the people were more than friendly, they were likeable. It was all very comforting. Soon enough, we got acquainted with a builder named Charlie who owned a lot and built this cottage for us by the lake. We now know everybody around us. We’ve got the Swannanoa gathering. We’ve got the White Horse. There is music all over the place. My wife has her gardening which she spends two hours a day on. My motto is always going forward from here. Staying healthy and looking for opportunities to perform."