Bill Williams and his bass are a common sight at traditional music venues in and around the Wilkes County area. Bill was fortunate enough to have Wayne Henderson build him a four-string acoustic bass with a pickup installed which he plays most of the time now. For more than two decades, Bill has been picking and singing with most of the bluegrass and old-time groups and musicians from Wilkes County.
He was born in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, where he lived until he was eighteen years old and enlisted in the Army. He stayed in the Army for four years and then located to the Kissimmee, Florida area, where he stayed until he moved to Wilkes County in 1976. “I got up here one day,” Bill remembers, “went to work the next day, and stayed.” Soon Bill met his wife, Ruby, a Wilkes County native who played guitar. “Her daddy played the fiddle, and her grandma played the banjo,” Bill says.
Bill got interested in playing music as well, and started playing bass with Steve Kilby. “He worked at the same place I did,” Bill recalls. “We got to be good friends, and when he started a band, I ended up playing bass.” Bill played with Steve for a few years, and he got to know many of the musicians in the area.
Bill performed with Drake Walsh and Floyd Williams in a group called the Southland Band. That group played together for about 10 years at area events. Bill continued his musical relationship with Drake, in the Elkville String Band and in a group with piano player Lloyd Church. Other area musicians Bill played with include Eric Ellis, Ramona Church Brooks, Tut Taylor, R.G. Absher, Nathan Leath, David Johnson, Wayne Henderson, and even a time or two with Doc Watson.
Bill was an early member of the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society (WAFS), an organization in Wilkes County dedicated to promoting and presenting traditional music in the area. WAFS provided the music for the local Tom Dooley production, and Bill was usually the bass player. After a few years, Jerry Lankford formed the band that would become the Elkville String Band to play for the Tom Dooley production. Original members including Nicole Vidrine, Anna Lankford, Tony Joines, and David Johnson played with the band during the Tom Dooley years. The current lineup includes Herb Key, Jim Lloyd, Trevor McKenzie, and Bill, and the group performs at dances, festivals, radio programs, and other events in the area.
Bill Williams is available for performances with a variety of old-time and bluegrass bands including his primary group, the Elkville String Band. He also offers demonstrations and classroom programs.