One of the best – a conversation with Paul Williams

Paul Williams with his family, Erdia Humphrey, and son, Richie Humphrey (November 2022)

Many of us grew up singing the songs and listening to the music of the legendary, Paul Williams. Earlier this month while in Gatlinburg, TN for Christmas in the Smokies Bluegrass Festival, I had the privilege to sit down with the master and his family and learned little known details about his life and career.

Upon meeting his only child, Richie, he explained. “I am a Humphrey.”

Seeing I was a bit puzzled, Paul explained. “That’s my real last name. When I was 14 and Jimmy Williams was 16, we started singing together. Brother acts were really big at the time, so we became unofficial ‘brothers,’ and called ourselves the Williams Brothers. The name just stuck.”

The pair played on the radio in Wytheville, VA.

“We auditioned and were hired to play with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. I played guitar and am on all their RCA Victor Records,” the now 87-year-old said.

After serving in the United States Air Force for 8 years (four active, four reserved), Williams began playing mandolin with Jimmy Martin. He went home with Martin in December 1957. It was there he met Martin’s half-sister, Edria.

“I fell in love when I seen her,” Williams admitted proudly. 

They married four years later on December 4, 1962. Next month, they celebrate 60 years of wedded bliss. Their union afforded them one son, four granddaughters (who all sing, Paul pointed out), and seven great-grandchildren. 

Williams performed two separate stints alongside his brother-in-law, Jimmy Martin. The versatile musician also played bass for country artist, Stonewall Jackson. He stopped touring in June 1963 and went to work for the US Postal service, first as a mail carrier and then as a clerk in Morristown, TN. He worked that position until he retired.

Paul formed with his own band, the Victory Trio, in 1995, and because of his talents, he is in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame twice: with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and the Victory Trio. He has performed in half the states, impressive venues such as the Grand Ole Opry, the Louisiana Hayride, the Wheeling Jamboree, and Kentucky Educational Television.

“We were the only bluegrass band to play the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in 1960. We played five shows a day for a week, in 20 minute sets continuously with two other acts from 5:00-10:00 p.m.”

A prolific songwriter, Paul shared the titles of some of his favorite original tunes: Abigail, Old Fashioned Christmas, Walking Shoes, and Stepping Stones.

His first tune, My Brown-Eyed Darling was recorded by the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers in 1952. His songs have been recorded by Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams Jr, Ray Charles, Jimmy Martin, and Doyle Lawson, just to name a few.

“The Malpass Brothers have my song, I’ve Got Her On My Mind Again on their new CD.”

“I used to write poems. I’d put a melody to them. I have songs come to me, a comment someone makes, something in a magazine. It’s a gift of God. I can’t just sit down and write a song. It comes to me, sometimes the melody, sometimes the words come first, then I write it down.”

“Salvation is the sweetest thing to happen to me when the Lord saved my soul the last Sunday in August 1963. The second best thing was marrying my wife.”

 “In May 1998, I had four bypasses. My surgeon told me, ‘All we can hope for is 8-10 years.’ With a twinkle in his eye, Paul noted, “Here we are in November 2022. He’s added years to my life. I’m a sinner saved by the grace of God. As the scripture says, ‘My spirit shall bear witness one with another.'”

Share this:

About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.