Tell us a little about yourself. Where were your born, raised, and where you live now?
“I was born in Arkansas where my father was working on one of his graduate degrees. We moved to Mississippi then Pennsylvania so he could get more graduate degrees. My dad has five degrees – two bachelors, two masters and a doctorate in art – from Carnegie Mellon University. When I was 5, we moved to Abilene, Texas where my dad taught art and sculpture at Abilene Christian University. Abilene is where I grew up. It is a great town to be from – but I am glad that I am here now.”
Family? Married? Children?
“My wife and I have been married for 30 years now. We met in college and have been together ever since. Our children are better than yours – sorry but it is true. My son is at Harding University, where he is on a dual bachelor’s-master’s degree program in computer science. My daughter just graduated from college with two degrees, one in art and a second in mechanical engineering. She will be starting her graduate degree in architecture in Texas in the fall. Both of my children graduated from the Nashville School of the Arts; my daughter was salutatorian and, my son was an Eagle Scout. Both have tremendous music and art skills; both are smarter than I am. My wife works for the Tennessee Board of Education and oversees more than her fair share of responsibilities. She also opened up her own bridal dress shop, the Bridal House of Nashville, right across the street from my shop just this year.”
Where did you graduate high school? College? Degree?
“In high school, I was a pretty good bass player and was fortunate enough to play in several community orchestras, as well as the college orchestra. I was often the youngest-paid musician back then. In college, I earned a bachelor of music education degree while double majoring in classical guitar and double bass with a double minor in violin and cello. While in college, I taught classical guitar at Howard Payne University and played double bass in more orchestras, musicals and operas than I can count and just had the time of my life. Undergrad school was a lot of fun.”
What was your first job?
“When I was 10 years old, I started working for my father in the summertime. My dad taught sculpture at Abilene Christian University during the school year and then would create sculpture in the summer. I helped sand his sculpture – wood, stone, bronze, plastic resin – from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon almost every day, all summer long until I graduated high school. He had six to eight art galleries that constantly wanted his work, so we were always busy.”
What is your business? I understand it was on Music Row, and two years ago you moved to Donelson. Is this correct?
“I officially opened Williams Fine Violins & Luthier Studios in summer 2004 on Music Row. The first four years, we were on 16th Avenue South. The next 10 years, we were in a larger building on 17th Avenue South, and the last two years, we have been on Donelson Pike.”
Why did you choose Donelson to move your business?
“We live nearby in Hermitage, so Donelson is super close to my home, which is very nice not having to drive downtown every day. Four or five years ago, we started looking for a place that we could build and expand the shop. The location we found on Donelson Pike fit the bill perfectly. At first, however, we were not sure what our musicians and customers would think about the move. As it turned out, most would say, ‘You are farther from where I work, but now you are minutes from where I live.’ There are a lot of string players living out here.”
Are you a luthier? Please explain what that is.
“Technically, a luthier is someone who builds and repairs string instruments. The term is pretty broad, like saying cook or mechanic. There are a lot of guitar luthiers in Nashville, a few other violin luthiers around, but currently I am the only graduate of a four-year violin-making school in all of Tennessee.”
Why is music so important to you? Were your parents musical? I learned to play flute in grammar school. What was your first instrument? How many do you play?
“Music and art has always been around my family and me. My father is a sculptor; my mother was a vocalist and music teacher, and my brother teaches percussion in a university in Minnesota. He has his doctorate in percussion. My first instrument was the baritone ukulele when I was 7, then the guitar, then the double bass. Being a music major in college means that you learn how to play every instrument, all strings, all woodwinds, all brass, percussion, piano, all of it. Just to challenge myself, a few years ago I started taking lessons in the renaissance and baroque lute – 15 strings and 24 strings. I have also been working a bit with the Nashville Pipes and Drums learning to play the highland bagpipes. That is something completely different.”
Do you read music or play by ear?
“For me reading music is not a problem. Playing by ear takes more concentration.”
Career highlights and biggest career accomplishments? How did you get to this position?
“Through the years, I have been able to do many unique things. I founded and have been the chairman of the Double Bass Makers Competition for the International Society of Bassists, as well as serving on its board of directors. I helped start the Southern Violin Association and the Nashville Early Music Festival. I have conducted youth orchestras and several other notable orchestras, and I have performed all over with too many orchestras to count. Really, I was just in the right place in the right time.”
Do you belong to any organizations?
“I do belong to several organizations. The one I work with the most is the International Society of Bassists, simply because I am a bass player and those guys are a lot of fun.”
Who is your mentor? Why? Are you a mentee to anyone?
“I really do not have a single mentor. I have learned from a lot of people during my whole life. What I really learn the most from is from other people’s mistakes. I make plenty of my own mistakes, but I have found that I can also learn from others’ mistakes, it just saves time.
If you could spend an evening with anyone, past or present, who and why? What would you ask?
“I would like to spend time as an invisible man in the room during the debates over the Declaration of Independence. I would not interfere; I would just have liked to witness it.”
Best piece of advice you’ve received? Given?
“The best advice given to me was you have to pay your dues; pirates don’t wear life vests – take the risk; and it is not about me. The advice that I give to musicians who move to Nashville – most violin and fiddle players new to town visit me early on – is to be nice, everyone can play well here, and you can easily be replaced; 10 minutes early is five minutes too late, always arrive early; get it right the first time, if you can’t play it, you might not get called back; and grow a thick skin, you are going to need it.”
“Not really, I enjoy what I do.”
Are you a foodie? If so, favorite dish and favorite restaurants?
“I would prefer to not have to eat at all. Nothing against food, it is just too time consuming, and I have other things I would rather do. Same thing for sleep – I wish I did not have to do it.”
What would surprise us about you?
“I was a trained professional runway model for a short while. It was not as fun as you might think.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“Hopefully I will still be here in five years, but you never know what the future will inflict. If you were to go back in time even seven months ago and say, ‘What do you think you would be doing in seven months from now?’ I doubt anyone would have said anything about social distancing.”
“I always had large dogs growing up, but I thought it would be funny to have a tea-cup Chihuahua, so we got one, and I enjoy the small dogs now. They simply do not eat very much, and they do not leave very large landmines in the yard. Right now, we have what is called a harry hairless Chinese-crested Chihuahua. It’s a very unique and somewhat ugly dog.
Do you like to travel? If so, favorite place you’ve visited? Somewhere you’d love to visit when it’s safe?
“I have been fortunate to have lived from the bottom tip of Texas to the farthest west of Canada. I have been to several interesting places in the world. Sooner or later, we will get around to the rest of it.”
Some answers were edited.