‘Tootie’ Williams passes

Harless Williams, or Tooter / Tootie, as he was known, bass player with north Texas bluegrass group the Stone Mountain Boys, passed away on June 27, 2018, after various illnesses. He was 84 years old and the last living member of that band. 

Harless Eugene Williams was born on December 3, 1933 and began his bluegrass music career playing the bass with The Duck Creek Four in Garland, in the north-east Dallas area. 

Around 1961 or 1962, The Duck Creek Four did a radio show on Radio KYAL in McKinney, a town that has since become the home of a major North Texas bluegrass festival. 

Subsequently, he went on to play with other bands including the Stone Mountain Boys, a group led by mandolin player Mitchell Land. Formed in 1966, it was the most successful Dallas-area bluegrass band of the latter half of the 1960s. 

This group attended Bill Monroe’s first festival – known as a Blue Grass Celebration — at Bean Blossom, Brown County, Indiana, in June 1967 and was invited to back singer Red Allen on stage. The following year they returned to Bean Blossom and won the band contest. 

The Stone Mountain Boys played on the Big D Jamboree show, on Radio KRLD-AM in Dallas, for 18 months and was the only Texas group that featured at Bill Monroe’s 1st Lone Star Bluegrass Festival held in McKinney on September 4, 5 and 6, 1971. 

While Williams played with The Liberty Blue Grass Band as well as in Irving-based The Shady Grove Ramblers, started by song-writer Tom Uhr in 1966, he was with the Stone Mountain Boys the longest time (1966 – 1975). 

He played bass on the Stone Mountain Boys eponymous Byron Berline-produced LP for Takoma/Briar (BT 7204), released in 1974. This was the first album by a Texas bluegrass group to be released by an out-of-state national label with more than mail-order distribution.

The highlight of his musical career was playing with his good friend Bill Monroe, as he did on many occasions off and on for 20 years. 

Byron Berline was a well-respected friend of Williams ……. 

“When I first started playing bluegrass music in the early 1960s I was fortunate enough to get to jam and play with the Stone Mountain Boys out of Dallas. Tootie was their bass player. All of these guys helped me a lot in learning about bluegrass. Tootie and I became friends and have done lots of things and told a lot of stories. I will miss him.”

Alan Munde is another who enjoyed his time with Williams and the Stone Mountain Boys. ….  

“A large and important part of my musical education came through a group of musicians in the Dallas, Texas area, the Stone Mountain Boys. The band included different players in their history, but bass player Tootie Williams was always a part of it. Tootie loved bluegrass music and the people who played it with an enthusiasm warmly welcomed by me. Eddie Shelton, my banjo mentor, played with the group but was not always available because his job required him to relocate to another town for a period of time. Often the band would just get the urge to pick and call me to see if I was available for a weekend of music making. I was in college at the time and would ride the bus from my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma to Dallas. Tootie would pick me up and we would go straight to one of the band member’s house and start picking right away – all weekend. Tootie worked as a concrete foreman and he got me a summer job in Dallas so I could be close and get together to pick more often. It was great for me, only 18 or so, to be with adults who were equal to me in the desire to play music. It was different, and in many ways, more difficult for them because that all had family and work commitments that had to be negotiated for our selfish pleasure of playing music.”

Fred Robbins shared this memory of a brief encounter with Williams …..

“I met ‘The Tooter’ in May 1969 along with the Stone Mountain Boys. I’d met Byron Berline at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and went with him on a musical weekend trip to Baton Rouge and Walker with the Stone Mountain Boys.”

Williams was laid to rest on July 2, 2018, at Blue Ridge Cemetery, Blue Ridge, Texas.

There will be a Tribute Concert on November 11, 2018, at Monica Park Christian Church, 2600 Broadway Boulevard, Garland, Texas. Dinner will be served at 6:00 p.m. with the show starting at 7:00 p.m. There will be a $10.00 fee which will go to the youth of the church.

Tootie Williams with Alan Munde, mid-1960s - photo © Fred Robbins

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.