Lester Williams, blues guitarist and vocalist, was born in Groveton, Texas, on June 24, 1920. He was little-known outside of the Houston blues scene. He had moved with his family to Houston when he was a boy.
Williams grew up singing in church choirs and in school; he later also sang in college. In Houston, he became familiar with the recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson. After serving in the military in World War II, he came home to Houston and formed his own band. At this time he heard T-Bone Walker, who became a major influence on Williams’s style. Williams sang with Ike Smalley’s band at the famous Eldorado Ballroom in Houston, but he left the Smalley band and applied to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and was accepted. In an interview in Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound, Williams recalled his formal studies there: “Blues guitar was not in vogue, so I studied piano and voice.”
He returned to Houston, bought a guitar, and spent about six months polishing his blues playing. He began performing at Don Robey’s Bronze Peacock Club. He made tapes of his song, “Winter Time Blues,” which he wrote after his wife and daughter had gone to Los Angeles for the summer. At this time, Williams was attending Texas Southern University. “Winter Time Blues” was eventually released in 1949 on the Houston-based Macy’s label and became a regional hit. Other Macy’s recordings include “Answer To Wintertime Blues,” “Dowling Street Hop,” “Texas Town,” “Mary Lou,” “Hey Jack,” and “The Folks Around The Corner.”
Williams joined the Specialty label, which resulted in his biggest hit in 1952—“I Can’t Lose with the Stuff I Use.” The song was later covered by B.B. King. Steve Poncio, who had produced Williams's debut single “Winter Time Blues,” also produced “I Can't Lose with the Stuff I Use.” The record achieved national popularity, and Lester Williams joined a February 1953 Carnegie Hall bill, which included Billy Eckstine, Dinah Washington, and Nat King Cole. His other recordings with Specialty included “Trying to Forget,” “Lost Gal,” and “If You Knew How Much I Love You.”
Williams’s later recordings were not successful; however by 1954 he was regularly performing on Houston radio station KLVL. He was also touring and playing on blues circuits throughout the South. In 1954 he recorded some sessions for Robey’s Duke label, including “Let’s Do It” and “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby.”
Williams’s recordings have been released on various reissue CDs. The Godfather of Blues (Collectables 1993) includes his Macey’s sides—“Dowling Street Hop,” “Winter Time Blues,” “Answer to Wintertime Blues,” “Texas Town,” “Hey Jack,” “Folks Around the Corner,” and “Mary Lou.” Other CD releases include I Can't Lose with the Stuff I Use (Ace, 1993), Texas Troubadour (Ace, 1995), and Goree Carter: The Complete Recordings Volume 2—1950–1954, The Remaining Lester Williams 1949–1956 (Blue Moon, 2004).
Williams continued playing the Houston club circuit for many years, and in 1986 he toured in Europe. He died on November 13, 1990, in Houston.
All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed August 30, 2011. Alan Govenar, Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008). Lester Williams: I Can’t Lose with the Stuff I Use, Concord Music Group (http://www2.concordmusicgroup.com/albums/I-Cant-Lose-With-The-Stuff-I-Use/), accessed August 30, 2011.
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
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