Robert Pete Williams (March 14, 1914 – December 31, 1980) was an American Louisiana blues musician. His music characteristically employed unconventional structures and guitar tunings, and his songs are often about the time he served in prison.His song "I've Grown So Ugly" has been covered by Captain Beefheart, on his album Safe as Milk (1967), and by The Black Keys, on Rubber Factory (2004). Williams was born in Zachary, Louisiana, to a family of sharecroppers. He had no formal schooling, and spent his childhood picking cotton and cutting sugar cane. In 1928, he moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and worked in a lumberyard. At the age of 20, Williams fashioned a crude guitar by attaching five copper strings to a cigar box, and soon after bought a cheap, mass-produced one. Williams was taught by Frank and Robert Metty, and was at first chiefly influenced by Peetie Wheatstraw and Blind Lemon Jefferson. He began to play for small events such as Church gatherings, fish fries, suppers, and dances. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Williams played music and continued to work in the lumberyards of Baton Rouge.He was discovered by ethnomusicologists Dr Harry Oster and Richard Allen in Louisiana State Penitentiary, where he was serving a life sentence for fatally shooting a man in a nightclub in 1956, an act which he claimed was in self-defense.Oster and Allen recorded Williams performing several of his songs about prison life, and pleaded for him to be pardoned. Under pressure from Oster, the parole board issued a pardon, and commuted his sentence to 12 years. In December 1958, he was released into 'servitude parole', which required 80 hours of labor per week on a Denham Springs farm without due compensation, and only room and board provided. This parole prevented him from working in music, though he was able to occasionally play with Butch Cage and Willie B. Thomas at Thomas's home in Zachary. By this time, Williams' music was becoming popular, and he played at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival.By 1965, he was able to tour the country, traveling to Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Chicago and Berkeley, California. In 1966 he also toured Europe. In 1968 he settled in Maringouin, west of Baton Rouge and began to work outside of music.
In 1970, Williams began to perform once again, touring blues and folk festivals throughout the United States and Europe. His music has appeared in several films notably, the Roots of American Music; Country and Urban Music (1971); Out of the Blacks into the Blues (1972) and Blues Under the Skin (1972) the last two being French-made films.
His most popular recordings included "Prisoner's Talking Blues" and "Pardon Denied Again". Williams has been inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame. In 2014, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Williams reduced his activities by the late 1970s, and died in Rosedale, Louisiana on December 31, 1980.
Reverend KM Williams Band blends blues influences from many regions
examiner.com - Chicago.... Clarksdale... and Texas. All these regions spawned their own brand of blues music. But, whether it's Deep Blues from Mississippi's Hill Country or grittier sounds by way of the city of Chicago, musicians generally play in a style picked up from their own particular area.
But, the Reverend KM Williams Band is the glorious exception to this rule of geo-specific music. Although the Reverend hails from Texas' Red River region and learned some licks from Elmore James, he has a voice that' s reminiscent of John Lee Hooker and plays Hill Country blues/sanctified boogie with the best of them. So, right there, he's got a nice musical melange going on. Williams, who was born in 1956 started playing music in the 1960s and was inspired by the music of a varied selection of artists including John Lee Hooker, Blind Willie Johnson and R.L. Burnside. Williams' style is a bit reminiscent of the Mississippi Hill Country blues artists with his fairly simple tunes and repetitive distorted guitar riffs backed mostly by just percussion accompaniment.Williams also plays some powerful slide guitar.
Thomas Edger Shaw, who like Mance Lipscomb got a late opportunity to shine after a lifetime of developing his gift. And like Mance, he had plenty of inspiration to draw upon, learning to play from the granddaddy of them all, Blind Lemon Jefferson. Born in Brenham in 1908, Thomas forged his own style after studying first hand with Blind Lemon, Blind Willie Johnson and J. T. Funny Papa Smith. He also briefly accompanied Texas Alexander. He may be the only bluesman to have known and played with all of these essential Texas bluesmen. He finally got to record his first album at age 62 in 1970 for Advent Records. Like Mance and his old Washington County neighbor Blind Arvella Gray, he could not resist recording his own version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children” and like them made it his own and thrilled crowds with his ability to do both Blind Lemon and Blind Willie favorites. Thomas travelled many miles all over the country to find his audience, and like another Washington County neighbor, L. C. Robinson, ended up in California in 1934. Transplanted Texans on the West Coast loved that he could lay down Jack O’ Diamonds, Two White Horses in Line, and See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, received right from Blind Lemon’s corner to their ears.
Tom’s musical journey was begun while playing with his father, an accomplished and popular performer in Washington County, Texas, who exposed him to the harmonica, guitar and accordion. After his father passed away in 1917, He played in a band with his brothers and his Uncle Fred Rogers, who kind of treated him as the young and dumb kid in the family, and he developed quite a chip on his shoulder because of it. In this band he was competing with cousins Willie and Bertie Shaw, both great blues guitarists, his brother Leon on the piano, and his other brother Louis on the harmonica. There never really was a hole made for him.
While working in the cotton patch in Moody, Texas, he finally met Blind Lemon Jefferson one weekend in 1927 while playing in Waco and the energy and enthusiasm he gleaned from him made him put down the old harmonica and pick up the guitar. Jefferson himself would show him how. Shaw bought a little Stella for 8 bucks from Aegis Patterson, another blues buddy, and his life was never the same.
For the first time he thought he could do this!
One night in 1929 in west Texas he was thrown into an impromptu show down with Ramblin’ Thomas and gained a great deal of confidence when he felt like he really smoked him, as the audience seemed to go nuts over the Blind Lemon songs he knew. Later he would get to meet J. T. “Funny Papa” Smith while picking cotton in Oklahoma, and soon he could play his songs as well as the master, or so he remembered. He even recalled once beating Mance Lipscomb in a guitar picking show down.
His gig with Funny Papa Smith ended abruptly when “Funny Papa” was hauled to jail on murder charges in 1931. Thomas played to entertain Texas Alexander as well. Alexander, never a guitarist himself, supposedly proclaimed him the winner in a show down with several blues guitarists. After Alexander was thrown in prison for murder as well, Thomas Shaw went out on his own, ending up in California.
He also hung out with Mance Lipscomb, T-Bone Walker and Smokey Hogg. His acquaintances read like the Who’s Who of Texas Blues.In 1941 he did a radio gig in California and played live blues to California blues lovers. And then a long period of playing just because he loved to play.After moving to San Diego in 1930, Shaw got into the wrecking business — which he had just sold — and played his music in gospel churches. He became Reverend Shaw of Noah’s Temple of the Apostolic Faith, which met in the lower half of his house for many years . Shaw learned skill from Blind Lemon Jefferson, but he explains that his music was instilled in him earlier than that. “My daddy was a preacher and a composer, and he’d sing to me while I sat in his lap. I paid him no heed, but after he died his songs came to me overnight.” “It was a gift God gave to me. Still, his time came when a blues revival came in the 70’s and Thomas was there to sing the old songs, just like he remembered them, to a new generation of enthusiastic listeners. He found new purpose in doing something he loved, something his whole family teased him unmercifully about, but they were mostly dead now, and it was up to Tom Shaw to carry on the family music legend. And so he did. And he was always glad to tell you all about it.
Shaw recorded for Advent, Blue Goose and Blues Beacon and his work appeared on some compilation albums as well. Thomas Shaw died in San Diego as a beloved California bluesman in 1977.