The Wisdom of Age Project—Hampton Roads, Va. 2013 Documenting Life Stories & How We Get By
Home About Us • Archive—2009-2011 • Archive—2012 • About Christopher Newport University


"Idel Williams: Guitar Man"

audio documentary by David Elliott


IDEL WILLIAMS, 63, IS A NATIVE-BORN RESIDENT of Newport News, Va.  At a very young age, he fell in love with music and made it his life.  He recalls listening to the radio as a child and becoming very excited, getting all riled up and running all over the house.  Around the age of ten, his best friend “Pickle” introduced him to the guitar.  Pickle's father was a musician and had various instruments that the boys would tinker with, making enough noise to “irritate the neighborhood.”


By the time Williams was sixteen, he had acquired some skill on the guitar and decided that he needed one of his own.  Knowing his parents could not afford to buy him one, he  picked up a job bagging groceries, saving his money for an entire summer to buy a knock-off Telecaster from a local pawn shop.  Williams was so excited about the guitar, that he spent the entire following week locked in his room playing it until he broke three out of six of its strings.  However, he was unable to replace them immediately because he found that he had been fired from the very job that helped him buy the guitar for not showing up to work.  He would soon after get the job back though after pleading with his boss.


Williams began performing when he was seventeen, gaining a reputation as being the “guy who would play with anybody.”  He would find any reason to play, claiming that he “even became religious” so that he could play at church on Sundays.  He started his first band with Pickle and a drummer they knew from school, and were paid $10 to play their first show at a local restaurant that Pickle’s uncle owned.  The band was short lived as the drummer moved away, soon after graduating high school, and Pickle started college.


Williams, however, had it set in his mind that all he wanted to do was play music.  He continued his philosophy of playing with anybody and as much as possible.  He moved out on his own at twenty one, and worked as a day laborer.  By night though, he was a full-time musician, playing out five to six nights a week with different groups.  He also began sitting in as a session player for a local recording studio, appearing on a number of records.  Over the years, he also has had the privilege playing with and/or opening for a countless number of big names, such as Eric Clapton, Canned Heat, Chicago, Moody Blues, and Victor Wooton, to name a few.


After experiencing some health issues and facing a near-death experience in his early thirties, Williams was forced to slow down his lifestyle.  He took some time off from playing and picked up a full time job in construction.  The hiatus from music was short lived though and by thirty six he was back on the scene, but in much greater moderation.  Today, he lives alone in Newport News and is retired from construction.  He now works at a local guitar and music store where he sells, buys, and repairs gear.  Though he claims his time in the world of music has passed, his love for it has not.  Williams claims, “It’s like a disease with no cure.  Once you catch it, there’s no getting rid of it.  It’s just a part of you.”