by: Thomas D. Mooney
Scroll back up. The photo above says more about Eagle Eye Williamson than any words I could write right here. It’s that classic bluesman pose, primarily made famous by one Robert Johnson, arguably the greatest blues artist ever (Or at least greatest ever discovered. It’s so difficult saying best ever since so many artists were never discovered and revealed from pre-1960.). Williamson tells you what he’s all about. He’s strictly in the business of the blues. Hell, even his name sounds like a blues name.
While many bluesman in the deep south would walk town to town in their only suit with a bottle of whiskey and their six-string, Williamson also totes around a drum kit. It makes me wonder if Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins would have done the same had they had the opportunity.
Williamson is not necessarily a blues-purist, but he’s pretty damned close. He plays it close to the heart. There’s definitely an early blues influence, but also a good amount of garage-rock thrown in for good measure (similar to how The White Stripes and The Black Keys have been both influenced by early blues and garage-rock.).
We recently caught up with the Austin-based Williamson and talked about playing guitar and drums at the same time, his upcoming second album, “Black Gold Volume II,” and Texas blues. Williamson is opening for The Dirty River Boys tonight (April 21) at The Blue Light. Like Eagle Eye Williamson on Facebook here and follow him on Twitter here.
New Slang: I guess first off, what most people probably want to know, how did you get into playing both the guitar and drums at once while also singing?
Eagle Eye Williamson: Yeah. That pretty much came about because I was kind of frustrated with trying to get together with other people because it’s almost impossible to coordinate four other people’s lives. So I ended up getting my drum kit put together–I already had my guitars. And, I was recording tracks at my studio individually. You know, laying the drums down, then guitar, so on and so forth. I guess I was just sitting there one day at my computer while sitting at the drums with my guitar in my lap. That’s kind of when it first happened. Then I started messing around with it from there. Kept growing and it definitely works. Just taking it as far as it can go now basically.
NS: Are people, when they see you live, they just really surprised you can multitask and create as much sound as you do?
EEW: Yeah, for sure. You know, a lot of people, they’ll say “I can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time.” Things like that. And they’ll always ask me after the show, “how do you do it?” A big part of me is just, well, I don’t really know. But I think I’ve been asked so much, I’ve really thought about it, and I think the best way to describe it is that my left hand, that plays guitar, turns into another drum stick in a way. It becomes a little more of a percussive instrument. I guess I play my guitar more like a percussive instrument. I hammer and do a lot of pull offs. But there’s still definitely times where I don’t know how. I don’t try and think about it too much. If I do, I start to mess up.
NS: What are you originally? What hand are you?
EEW: I write right-handed, but I’ve been ambidextrous most of my life. I guess that helps a lot. And I grew up playing piano. I’m not sure if that helps a lot too. You know? Having to work with the foot pedals and using the different hands. Maybe that has more influences and deserves more credit than I’m giving it. Definitely been playing music since I was four.
NS: I’m sure it does. I’m sure just playing for a long time has had the biggest impact on it.
EEW: Yeah. Definitely time has.
NS: Now in the future, are you going to form a regular band? Is that a possibility?
EEW: It’s definitely a possibility. I’ve actually been playing with a few guys around here in Austin the past couple months. But, it’d be a totally different project. It’d never be where I took my music I’m making and have a drummer play my drum parts–you know what I mean? I don’t think it would work. Don’t think you could get the same sound playing those songs with a full band. But you know, who knows. That may be in the cards. I’m certainly not opposed to it. I’ve definitely met a lot of great musicians along the way so far.
NS: Now one of the big things with you is that on all your studio material is just one take, right? No overdubs.
EEW: Yeah, that’s correct. The whole first album was recorded that way. And of course that’s how everything is played live. It was really important to make sure the right sound and feeling was transferred as naturally as possible to the albums. And all the parts playing at once, they kind of rely on each other in a way too. I think it may be more difficult for me to record individual tracks than to do it all at once. But yeah, just trying to maintain that live feeling on the albums.
NS: Now when’s the second album going to be coming out?
EEW: I’m currently working with this really amazing engineer here in Austin and I think we’re done with the first part of the process. We’ve been recording all last week. So hopefully, if everything goes well, we can release something in a month, month-and-a-half. And I’ll be releasing it on vinyl too. That always takes at least six-week from them receiving the masters to you getting the vinyl. We’re looking at a month-and-a-half. The sooner, the better for sure.
NS: Yeah, definitely. In what ways do you think the second album is going to be different from the debut?
EEW: Well, it’s definitely a body of work. They’re both connected, but I think my music has definitely grown. The actual songs, the playing of them is better because I’ve just been playing like this. It’s been about two years since my last album. There’s a lot more craftsmanship I think. Just based on the amount I’ve been playing. A lot more intricate guitar riffs. I think a lot of the tracks are more catchy and more down into rock’n’roll–not that the first album is not or anything. I think it’s just matured. I think it’s a more matured version of my first body of work. I think people will recognize it’s me. it’s still the same artist, but that it’s just a better quality of work all the way around.
NS: I guess in a way, what you’re playing is like a new instrument. It makes sense that over time, more experience with it, you’re going to not only sound better, but you’re able to learn new tricks and sounds with it. Able to explore more. I’m assuming that’s the biggest part of the maturing.
EEW: Yeah, absolutely. And also, just traveling all over the country and playing all over the place. Played hundreds of shows since then. And just growing in my own music taste and just things in my life. I think it’s all in there.
NS: Yeah. Now, I think something that has gotten lost over the years with Texas music is that Texas used to be a real player in the blues. There’s been a ton of great blues-based bands and artists from here over the years. But, it seems to have been lost or at least forgotten by a good part of the population. In saying that, there has been some bands who are part of a small revival, Your music is definitely influenced by blues and early rock’n’roll. Can you talk about that Texas blues influence on you?
EEW: Yeah. Absolutely. I think it’s definitely overlooked. You’re definitely right about that. There’s deep blues roots in Texas. We’ve got one of the most respected blues musicians of all time, Stevie Ray Vaughan. And you know, there’s definitely a lot more. There’s some in Austin, but also, Dallas has a really interesting blues scene. They’ve done a lot of good archival work locating these guys who grew up in rural areas in Texas and they’re recapturing these guys and releasing the recordings. I think that’s very important because blues is the root of everything essentially that is modern music. It’s overlooked. You look at what all the British did, the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin. They all got these records from the south. Some from Texas, some from Louisiana, Alabama. They took those records and put their spin on it and brought it back over to us. That’s the root of all rock’n’roll. So to me, it’s really important to keep that in mind and really, in any music you play because it’s one of the truer forms of soul and expression and feeling. That’s why I think blues is most important to me. I’m always listening to it too no matter what’s going on. I have a pretty big record collection in my house and it’s really important to meditate and listen to the blues.
NS: Yeah. It’s interesting you say to keep that blues influence no matter what kind of music you’re making. To me–and I think you’ll agree–the blues is more an attitude than a certain and specific sound.
EEW: Absolutely. If nothing else, keeping blues inside your music will insure that you’re keeping focused on expressing something that connects your soul to the audience.
NS: And it’s also very humble in my opinion. I think a lot of the major elements in blues is that you’re humble. You’re the everyman and not an elitist snob.
EEW: Yeah. That’s extremely important to me. I think that a lot of musicians can get lost in a lot of different avenues. But the bottom line as a musician is that I’m playing for an audience. I’m not playing for a room full of other musicians or recording engineers. More often than not, I’m playing for the general public. And if you’re not connecting with them, I think you’re failing. Keeping your music forward and simple, I think that’s a key.