Willie J Laws

Willie J Laws
In Their Own Words

By Willie J Laws
June 2013

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked the questions “How did you get your start in music?” or, “When did you first start playing music?” When I was approached by Georgetown Fats of the Boston Blues Society to write write, in my own words, the answer to those questions... he had me at hello. Instead of going too deeply into how and when, I would like to share with you why I got started. Is that alright with y'all? Now, before I get into this I would ask that if you are still reading, stop! Now find some B.B. King to listen to while you continue to read. Fix yourself a drink, sit down and continue.

My first recollection of seeing and hearing a guitar was through my oldest sibling Betty’s husband, Charles Adams. He had a Silvertone guitar and a Fender Vibro-Champ amplifier circa 1969. Man, Charles was a character. I remember him playing a few notes and laughing while telling me, “say man this is something I showed B.B. King.” Hey! I was 7 so of course I believed it. As my brother-in-law, he was actually like my older brother.

Then there was my mother's youngest brother Donald Ray (Snake) Brightmon. Uncle Don was a bad ass drummer with a group named Lester Reese and Nature Boy from Kingsville, Texas. As a kid it seemed we were always in Kingsville on the weekends. Kingsville is the headquarters of the infamous King Ranch and during the late 1930's until the early 1980's was a bustling community of farmers and ranchers and also a Naval Air Station, which is still there. During those visits to Momma Flocey and Grandaddy I was surrounded by music.

I would go and watch Uncle Don on drums rehearse with Lester Reese on guitar, Ervin Jones on bass and Lester's little brother (whose name was Little Brother) on vocals. I was the only kid they would let hang around, so any bad habits I picked up "Did not come from them."

I was 7 going on 8 when my Aunt Jenelle gave me my first guitar for Christmas; my uncle Donald Ray gave me instruction on tuning. During the year of 1971 I lost both of my first musical influences. My brother-in-law, Charles Adams, was killed in a car accident on my birthday, May 8,1971. A few months later in December, my uncle Donald Ray (Snake) Brightmon died from injuries sustained in a house fire.

I didn't choose music, it chose me. My aunt Joyce Mitchell lived next door to us in Taft, Texas, a small town northwest of Corpus Christi, Texas. She was lead vocalist and choir director at the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church and she also sang with a group called Ricky G and the Dream Glows, which had some regional success as a cover band - GB band as they are called here in New England. Joyce could sing and play her ass off and she was buying records all the time.

My first brush with "The Muse of Groove" came when I was 10 and a group of us kids were invited to be dancers on a local TV show that broadcast live appearances of regional and national acts that were mainly Conjunto, Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues. The name of the show was The Domingo Pena Show that aired on Sunday afternoons. At the age of 12, I discovered other artistic talents in drawing and painting and only picked up the guitar now and then. By the time I was in Jr. High and High school, it was what every healthy young man from Texas did, FOOTBALL. A few months shy of graduating high school I asked my Mom and Dad if they would sign off on me joining the Navy since I got high scores on the entrance exam. Of course my Dad approved and Momma boohooed, but it was one of the best decisions we made to let me start my journey by first serving my country. During my time of service there were a couple of guys in my division that played a little and I started to mess around with it [guitar] for something to do in my off time. At this time, the furthest thing from my mind was becoming a professional musician.

After my service I went back home to some pretty hard times in the job market and that was a damned good ingredient for the blues right there. Still I did not know that my true destiny was right around the corner. I found a job as an electrician apprentice working 90-day turnarounds in oil refineries. In between times I would start to practice the guitar and listen to the record collection my family had. After close to a year of this practicing, I started to go to jams and shows. I was still in the reserves and considering going back to active duty when I met Phillip Walker.

April 1986, Cooper's Alley in Corpus Christi, Texas: a local drummer by the name of Floyd D had heard me at a couple of the local jams and while I thought I sucked, apparently Floyd didn't. Floyd was one of the old Chitlin' Circuit guys and gave me some good tips now and again. One night I had just come from a weekend reserve deal and stopped by a placed called Cooper's Alley. On the bill was a gentleman who was born in Welsh, Louisiana, grew up in Port Arthur, Texas and lived in Los Angeles. His name was Phillip Walker. The band was on a break and I was hitting a nice shot of Tekillya when Floyd pointed me out to Phillip and said something like, "See that sailor boy over there? Well Phillip, that boy can play some blues.” Phillip walked over in pure gunslinger fashion and said “Floyd here says you can play a little. Why don't you take my guitar and my band and open up the set for me?!”

I didn't choose music, it chose me. A most pure, raw and powerful emotion came over me as I sang and played a Muddy Waters number aptly named “Mannish Boy.” From that night on I knew there was nothing else I was going to do because I was hooked and done and my journey from an apprentice to a master craftsman had begun.

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