I had never eaten at Irondale Cafe, and that’s a regular stop for Adam and Blake Williamson, so we met for lunch a few weeks ago. It’s true what they say about the fried green tomatoes.
As we were walking in, Blake says to me, “So how did you end up with the name Blake?”
“It was the lead character on the 80s primetime soap opera Dynasty,” I said.
“Yeah. Blake Carrington. Me too,” he replied. “I imagine there’s a bunch of us that were born there in that little window of time.”
Adam and Blake have been playing with Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires for more than a decade now. But they had already been playing together for more than a decade before that. Much of that time was spent with Matt Patton [Dexateens, Model Citizen, Drive-By Truckers]. During the pandemic, they all reunited for a new project dubbed plainly, “The Williamson Brothers.”
The debut isn’t available on streaming services; you’ll need to go to Bandcamp for that. It also features Patton’s Drive-By Truckers bandmate Jay Gonzalez.
That day over fried Southern food and the frequent whistle of a train, I talked to Blake and Adam about the Birmingham rock scene on the east side of town and how this album came together.
I feel like when you guys were in high school at Erwin, you were on a bit of an island away from the scene. A lot of the guys playing around town back then were over the mountain.
BW: Erwin produced a ton of stuff, really. We’re from there. That’s where Dan Sartain went to school. That’s where Dave Hickox and Brad Davis from Plate Six were from. That’s where Chase L’Eplatteneir from Gainer was from. There weren’t a lack of bands out there to play with. You could do it.
AW: Anyone getting press or anything was from the other side of town, so you kind of felt like you had your own little scene. Almost an “us against them” kind of thing.
Did you have a band together at that point or were you in different bands? How did you first come together in the same band?
BW: Adam had a band before I did. It was called Inner Stepchild. They were a teenage punk rock band; a bunch of Nirvana freaks in a band together. When that kind of fizzled out Adam started playing in this other band…
AW: Yeah, it was called Ashley Tremelo. They were a little older than me. It was kind of a My Bloody Valentine thing. That lasted a year or two, and I was like, “Blake, we’re gonna go buy a drum set.” From that point, it was on.
BW: Adam had already started a band called Vesper. He had a drummer before me. And he wasn’t a bad drummer; just not the kind of guy you wanted coming to your mom’s house for band practice. Adam got sick of it and said, “Let’s just go buy a drum set.” And we bought a drum set for $150 or so.
AW: That was about 1995.
BW: I’ve been playing drums since then. We started making tunes right then. We had Vesper until 2004 or 2005.
AW: Then Black Willis morphed out of that.
BW: Our guitar player in Vesper moved to Ireland. We were just a three-piece, and our bass player, Betty, moved to Chapel Hill. But even before she moved, we made plans. Because the last time we had not made plans and we knew that we needed a plan in place if it happened again. Matt Patton said, “I’ll play bass with y’all.” And that was Black Willis.
Was that put to bed when you joined Lee or is it still a thing?
BW: I think that’s why Lee contacted us. He contacted me. He said, “I know you play in this band, and I like your band. But I need somebody that’s available.” And I was really like, “Well, I’d love to make some music, but I can’t go on tour.” I told him to tell me a date and we’d give it a try, but I can’t make any guarantees. And here I am, 11 years later.
And Matt stayed with you guys the whole time when you’d play those shows?
BW: Up until about 2010. He was being interviewed and courted by the [Drive-By] Truckers, while he was still playing with the Dexateens. And Dexateens were still playing a ton at that point in time. He was like, “I’m happy to keep doing this, but if y’all want to do more or bigger stuff, I can’t do it.”
So I just asked some other people around town to play with us. David Swatzell played bass with us; he switched to guitar and Ronnie Lee Gipson played bass with us. Justin Colburn came in and played bass for a while.
Ronnie isn’t in town anymore, so we kind of hadn’t done Black Willis in the last two years. I think that farewell Egan’s show was our last Black Willis show. And I was like, “Yeah, it’s time to do something else.”
Would you still do those Black Willis songs as The Williamson Brothers?
BW: Nah. We’d put something together with Black Willis if we did it. It’s one of those things where if it’s there and we’re able to do it, we may do it again.
But now, we had this past year. We had a lot of time. We couldn’t go on tour. We’re in the midst of making a record with Lee. And I had been writing songs. It’s tough being in someone else’s band when you have song ideas that you want to do – you can’t really them there. I’d love to bring Lee some songs, but that’s not what this is for. So we had the opportunity to do our own thing. I probably wrote five or six songs. I just started demoing them, which was hard because I was doing drums, bass, multiple vocals, horns, pianos…
AW: Blake was like, “Man, I think I’m gonna go record these in Mississippi at Matt Patton’s studio.” And I was like, “I’ll go play. I’ve got a new one, too.” We had three or four that we wrote several years ago that never became Black Willis songs or never got recorded that we both kind of wrote together. We had about nine songs…
BW: Two of those songs were really old Black Willis songs, from back when me and Adam and Matt had just started. They were really some of our best songs. But we never got them recorded. We used those on this album…
AW: Matt was gonna be playing on the record, so we brought them back out.
Did Matt give you the push to go ahead and record this record?
BW: He did. He called me about something completely different. We were talking and I told him, “Man, I’m glad you called because I wanted to ask you about some studio time and what you’d charge.” And he was like, “Man, just come over here. I’m not gonna charge you to do this. Just pay the engineers.”
So we went up for a weekend to do the tracking and we got done with half a day’s worth of tracking, and he was like, “Guys, I’m gonna put this record out.”
I was like, “Dude, you don’t have to do that.”
He’s like, “No, man, I really want to do it.”
AW: The minute we started recording, he was into it. So we said, “Well, let’s do it then.”
BW: I’m grateful to him. He played bass on a lot of it. Even though I played guitar and sing on a lot of it, I still played all the drums.
AW: He produced the whole thing. Helped us come up with the background vocals…
BW: He’s a really great maker of records, it turns out. He’s got great ideas. He’s got a guy named Bronson [Tew] that does a lot of his mixing at his studio. He’s super familiar with all of the things we have done in the past. He was able to pick up on the references pretty easily. I felt a little guilty that it went so smoothly. “Did I do it hard enough?” It came out how I wanted it to. I’m really pleased.
You also had Jay Gonzalez on the record, right?
BW: We sent it to him. He did an organ part on a song that turned out extremely wicked. He did a synth part on a slower jam that gave it an AM gold kind of feel. He knew exactly what to do. It’s pretty good to have a guy like that at your disposal.
It’s really just straight forward rock and roll. It’s not really punk or heavy; just rock and roll…
BW: Yeah, Black Willis was what we called “bar rock.”
AW: I think we were going for a Faces, Stones, ZZ Top, 70s kind of thing…
BW: Big dumb rock.
BW: That’s literally what Black Willis was for. It was for the purpose of, “Let’s have a good time.” There wasn’t heavy subject matter. It has its’ moments, but it wasn’t intense. The band was literally meant to be playing next to the bar at Egan’s.
AW: It was built for The Nick.
BW: Built for it! Taylor made for it!
What do these shows look like? Will Matt be playing bass on Williamson Brothers shows?
BW: Oh yeah. Mike Gault volunteered to play drums, and he told me to play guitar. I was going to call Justin, but Matt was insistent that he would play. Matt went ahead and booked shows and said, “I’m playing on these shows with you.”
AW: We’ve done three rehearsals and it sounds really great. It’s Mike on drums, Matt on bass, me and Blake singing and on guitar.
So you guys still enjoy playing together after 25 years?
BW: Yeah, man! We may give each other a hard time, but we can laugh about it.
Do you still feel like you are representing the east side of town? Is there still kind of a chip on your shoulder?
BW: There’s no doubt that we don’t represent over the mountain folks. There’s no doubt that we’re from the far east side. If you lived out there, it wasn’t easy. It was very strange. It was churchy, yet poor.
AW: You had front row seats to white flight and suburban decay. You’d be a kid skateboarding outside a strip mall and there’d be one store out of 20 open. And they sell wigs.
BW: We were skate punk kids. There was a leftover redneck mentality mixed in with all that white flight. And it was a little bit different when you were in a band, too.
Adam’s band played at the .25 hamburger stand on a flatbed in the parking lot and it was one of the coolest things I ever saw to this day.
The Williamson Brothers album release show is on Sunday, June 20 at The Nick. It’s an early show! Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show begins at 6 p.m. Hans Condor and The Great Dying are also on the bill. Ticket are $10.