Journey of a Hall of Fame Songwriter: Kim Williams

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Sharing this journal archive from back in October 2012, a few days before Dad was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on October 7, 2012.

Kim Williams Songwriter

Sunday is the day. A new crop of hit songwriters will be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, among them, my dad Kim Williams.

Dad was born in the hills of East Tennessee, the fourth son of Mary Francis & Lonzo nmn Williams.

Ma’am-aw said she gave Dad a Korean name out of necessity.

Pap-aw insisted she give each kid a middle name, since the Service (Air Force) branded him “nmn” for no middle name, and he was always ashamed of it.

He made her come up with two names for all their children, and Ma’am-aw was running short of name-fodder when it came time for Kim Edwin, so she told me.

Ma’am-aw said she gave Dad a Korean name out of necessity...

Dad grew up in what is known as Poor Valley, TN.

It’s not a town, really, but some folks know where to find it.

People in the valley used to sit around and play music for entertainment back in those days.

Pap-aw was said to be able to play anything with strings on it, and pretty much all the boys learned to play one instrument or another.

Larry Williams

Uncle Larry Williams on guitar

As a young kid, I remember going to Ma’am-aw and Pap-aw’s house for holidays and parties and watching my dad, his brothers and their friends pick and grin way into the wee hours of the morning.

All the songs they played at those jam sessions were cover songs, like old Hank Williams, and Marty Robbins classics. They would take turns singing, and traded off solos and even instruments from time to time. It was a joyful occasion, always.

When Dad first started writing songs, it was like he became possessed. He had always been serious when it came to his study, but now he became completely engrossed in his work.

I say “his study” with a dual meaning.

He had a room in our house he called “his study” and of course, he studied in there.

It was a glorious room in my memory, with a desk in one corner and a whole wall of built in bookshelves made of rich dark wood.

He had every Isaac Asimov book ever written, and many Robert Heinlein and other Sci Fi writers’ works. He also had a complete set of encyclopedias (remember, this was the ‘80s before Internet), tons of reference manuals, and an ever-expanding philosophy and psychology section.

I loved hanging out in there with him because he would often point things out to me, or we would play with his fascinating astronomy models – like the clear plastic bubble galaxy with its concentric spheres that moved independently – just the thing to keep a curious kid busy for hours.

Kim Williams and Amanda as baby. Aunt Linda Williams across

Left to right: Kim Williams before facial reconstruction, Amanda as baby, Linda Williams across, Kim's youngest sister

When he started writing songs, he withdrew into his secret study more and more often. I would peek my head in at him at times and find him pouring over a book on lyric craft writing, or practicing his guitar – he had started taking lessons.

It was an exciting time, because I could see the determination driving him along to pursue his writing. Dad had started attending the weekly meetings of the Knoxville Songwriters Association led by Sara Williams, and was really loving the camaraderie he found there.

He started bringing home interesting characters, some related to us, and some not, but all were new friends he had made doing his songwriting.

I remember how excited Dad was the day he finally got up the nerve to ask Benny Wilson to write with him.

Benny was the town rock star in Rogersville, TN, and everybody knew his music. He sang backup on the road with country music star, Janie Fricke.

Benny Wilson Rogersville Rock Star

Benny Wilson, Dad's Nashville roommate

It was raining the day Benny came over to our house for the first time.

We lived out in the woods, and the excitement of any visitor was exhilarating, let alone a famous one arriving in the middle of a thunderstorm!

Benny wasn’t in the house for five minutes before he and Dad were huddled in his study, pouring over their first of a long string of co-writing sessions.

Dad’s enthusiasm for songwriting was contagious.

It’s all he talked about, all he wanted to do. He started making regular trips to Nashville at the urging of the Knoxville Songwriters group, to pursue his career.

They sensed he had talent, and that his studying was paying off because he was actually getting better.

The songs he brought in for evaluation by the group were taking on a life of their own, and his earliest cuts were written with the folks who were part of the KSA like Oscar Turman, co-writer of the Doug Stone cut “Warning Labels.”

One of Kim Williams' first cuts "Warning Labels" recorded by Doug Stone Official Video

By now, Dad had started packing a briefcase with him everywhere he went, and kept a pen and pad of paper in his right front pocket.

For a short while, he also packed a squeezable flashlight so he could write down any song ideas he got in dark movie theaters.

He did that until we saw the movie “Rainman” and watched him doing the same thing. Mom teased him about it later, and he got mad (more like embarrassed) and didn’t use his flashlight in movie theaters anymore.

By this time, Dad had moved to Nashville.

He and Benny got an apartment right on Music Row, a dingy, cockroach infested crap hole of a place, but it was exciting.

I was too young to care very much about the accommodations, and just thought that’s how everybody lived in the big city.

Truth was, Dad was stretching his budget thin trying to maintain two households and our family with his monthly check and Mom’s nursing income.

Our family was kind of split up for a time during this period, but I know from hearing from others how hard Dad continued to work when he was away from us.

He would get up at 6AM and run on his manual treadmill that made a sound like the springs of hell were being pounded on by a herd of slightly unbalanced gorillas wearing tennis shoes.

Dad never was a quiet man, but one thing about him, when he decided to make something a habit, he “by God” did it right. You could set a clock by him.

After his 6AM run with the chirping screeching treadmill of doom, he would puff off into the shower where he would stay for approximately 15 minutes.

After a bowl of raisin bran or an “egg in toast”, he’d start his first writing appointment, usually by 8AM.

His appointments would last a couple of hours and one would lead right into the next one until his midnight box of microwave Chicken a-la King poured over white bread (or maybe Vienna Sausages on Saltine crackers) for supper.

Sometimes, his co-writers would take him to an afternoon number one party at ASCAP or somewhere, and he’d fill up on the free grub.

ASCAP Awards Kim Williams

Dad would go on to win many ASCAP awards himself over the years.

Music industry parties were lavish in those days when the honey wagon was flowing freely down the streets of Music Row (before illegal downloading).

His co-writers quickly learned, however, never to let Dad eat just before a writing appointment.

Being slightly narcoleptic, he would sometimes fall asleep while talking to you, especially after eating a big meal. (Garth wouldn’t let him eat anything at all until they were done for the day.)

Dad worked his tail off, and got around networking with all kinds of folks. He called it “politicking”.

He said he didn’t much enjoy it, but I think he might have liked it better than he let on. People sure seemed to like him, anyway.