Photo courtesy of H. Jack Williams
Songwriter-turned-artist, H. Jack Williams, who goes by Jack, has lived an extraordinary life. Just when most people would be slowing down and enjoying it, Williams turns it up and re-invents himself. Williams has always pushed the limits and has never given up until he has what he wants. After 40-plus years of writing for other musicians, he is now putting his vocals on to his own albums. His first solo release was in 2020, a digitally-released EP called Already Dead, which was produced by Brothers Osborne drummer Adam Box. His newest release, Halfway to Hell, features 10 songs, of which nine were co-written by Williams. The album includes a cover of the 1968 classic “What A Wonderful World.” Williams’ haunting rendition of the song is highlighted by his even eerier music video.
To understand the album better is to get to know a bit more about Williams’ background and his outlook on life. He writes about raw and taboo subjects. His third track, “Beat Me Again,” covers the rarely talked about subject of child abuse. It’s Williams’ personal anthem that he wrote with the dream of giving kids who are being abused hope. He’s getting the word out so kids will hear this song and see how he not only survived, but thrived, and they’ll know they can do the same. He is currently in the process of setting up a TikTok account for “Beat Me Again” to be seen by his target audience of kids. “Beat Me Again” also hits home for adults who’ve lived through a similar upbringing.
The Florida native started writing music in 1971, right after he was discharged from the US Marines Force Recon. He is a trained Escoffier chef and worked in the food industry while writing songs and meeting artists. He signed record deals over the years with record companies owned by The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend and The Oak Ridge Boys. To say he has worked with the best of the best in the industry is an understatement, it’s more of a “Who’s Who” list. It all started one night when he knocked on Richie Havens’ hotel room door until Havens finally opened it. Handing Havens a cassette tape of his own music, that encounter ended with an invitation from Havens for Williiams to be his opening act in New York City. Over the years he has worked with the likes of Gregg Allman (he co-wrote the hit “Just Before The Bullets Fly”), Dickey Betts, Montgomery Gentry, Black Stone Cherry, Aaron Pritchett, Clive Davis, Kevin Costner, John Hardy, Uriah Heep, Ken Hensley, Blackfoot and the list goes on.
Williams gained recent attention with his co-writes with Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner for his mega-hit TV show Yellowstone. Costner and his band, Kevin Costner & Modern West, recorded two of Williams’ songs, including the top 20 hit “Love Shines.” This led to Costner adding five more of Williams’ tracks for the series soundtrack, Tales From Yellowstone.
I had a chance to catch up with Jack. Here’s our conversation.
CN: Hi Jack, you are so accomplished and have worked with so many interesting and famous people already, where do you go from here?
JW: I was just talking about this and Kevin (Costner) said it best, “We are living the second act of our lives.” (Laughs) Without saying how old I am, I am thinking this is a strange time in my life for this all to be happening again. I should be fishing at the beach, but this is all cool and I like it, I didn’t want to stop ever.
CN: How would you describe what is going on right now for you?
JW: To show you where my head is at, I’m spending today watching two webinars and I have my 18-year-old son helping me set up a TikTok account. I want to post my first TikTok video. At my age, I know if Ward Davis can do it, I can do it. I have this wild idea today that if I use the chorus of my song “Beat Me Again” and I make a video of it, that I can post and hashtag it, then maybe it will be taken to where I want it to go. I wrote it for anyone going through child abuse. I want them to know if I could get out of it they can get out of it. I have been trying to rack my brain on how to reach the kids and I think TikTok is the place to do it. My son TJ took my video, edited it for me and helped me with the hashtags. This is exciting for me, I know the audience is all young kids. There are a bunch of kids getting their asses kicked at home and they don’t have a way out. If I can get this out there for them, they can see me and know it will all be okay, it can help them.
Video courtesy of H. Jack Williams and YouTube
CN: Tik Tok is a brilliant way to get your message out. You will definitely get your target audience there. Have you heard feedback from anyone who has heard “Beat Me Again,” anyone who has said it has helped them?
JW: I’ve played the song live at a couple of places and I’ve had a reaction to it that has been remarkable. I have had grown men and grown women crying. They have come up to me after telling me that I hit home with it. If I can get to the kids that would be great and it’s what I’m hoping for.
CN: It is a beautiful thing that you are doing this. It takes a lot to put yourself out there with your personal story. It is great to see a man come forward in this way, you often see women putting their stories out there. It will be so helpful to so many.
JW: I told my producer when we did the song I wanted to do it as a duet. My producer looked at me like I was nuts. I said to him, “Boys aren’t the only ones who are abused, girls are too.” I had Brandy Zdan do it with me. I think we have something really special.
CN: What is it like writing something so personal and painful? Is it hard to write or is it therapeutic?
JW: Oh, it’s comfortable to write. I enjoy the fact that I’m not afraid to tell the truth. I have always been that way, I don’t have any filters. The more I’m able to hear people say, “I can’t believe you said that,” or, ”I can’t believe you told people about that,” that’s when I know I’m doing something right. I don’t care because that’s what we are supposed to do as songwriters. We are supposed to tell the truth so someone else can say, “Yeah, that’s how I feel about it and I could never put it into words.”
Video courtesy of H. Jack Williams and YouTube
CN: Do you have a song that you have written that you are most proud of, a favorite?
JW: The one on my new record called “One More Day.” It’s also the one we are getting ready to do the video on. I love that song, it’s my favorite song that I’ve written by myself. I have favorite songs that I have written for other people to cut too. I have a brand new one called “Pray No More,” and my camp thinks it can be a really big song. We are just about to go into the studio to record it. It is also a favorite. I really love “One More Day ” because it’s like waking up and seeing God and asking “Can I get just one more day? I meant to do something yesterday and I didnt get it done, just one more day please.” When Kevin Costner sings it with his band, he sings the first two choruses like, “Can you give my buddy one more day?”
CN: Speaking of Kevin Costner, how did he end up singing your songs and writing with you?
Video courtesy of Kevin Costner & Modern West
JW: I went after him because I wanted to work with him about 10 years ago. When I decide I want to work with someone, I make it happen. I told my wife all those years ago that I wanted to work with Kevin and she said, “Oh, I guess you will.” It took me a couple of years to hear “no,” and I hit roadblocks, but I finally found a way in. I started writing with his guitarist and everything we wrote he would send to Kevin. The first song that was sent to Kevin, he ended up recording it. About eight or nine years ago he was on tour with his band. I went to see him and his guitar player introduced us. We hit it off, it was a magic time. We became really good friends, just two artists, two good friends. I have stayed at his house with his family, we have a kindred friendship. I send him everything I write, if it’s not finished I ask him to finish it with me. If I’m in the studio, I get him in on Zoom. When the Lynyrd Skynyrd guys were in doing my last record, we pinpointed right down to the time we would be in the studio. We got Kevin on Zoom with Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke. The guys were all back and forth, saying how much they all admired each other’s work. It was fun to watch the interaction.
JW: I am heading to Los Angeles to shoot my next music video for “One More Day” that has Gary Rossington in it. I am hoping that Kevin Costner, who co-wrote it with me, will do a cameo in it with me. Even if he doesn’t do a cameo in it, he co-wrote it with me so that’s cool. I’m really excited about getting the video done. We’re using Kevin’s people to make it.
CN: Congratulations on getting your music on the Yellowstone soundtrack, Tales From Yellowstone.
JW: Yeah, that was cool! We gave them that song three years ago, even before Yellowstone started. Kevin gave it to the music supervisor and said if there was ever a spot for this song to use it. We didn’t hear about it until she called and said that she had found a place for the song. We got lucky.
CN: It seems that you are still pounding on doors holding a cassette tape, like how it all started for you. I’m guessing you’re still doing this.
JW: I have never stopped, I’m still knocking on doors. I am trying to do new stuff. I’ll see someone I want to work with and I’ll go after them.
CN: Who are you hoping to work with?
JW: Right now, it’s Bruce Willis. I have been knocking on his door. He has a blues band that not many people know about. It’s funny, a lot of these guys have bands and do music off to the side, like Keanu Reeves. My thought process is if I can attract them with some good music and not even talk about film or TV, one thing will lead to another, like, “Why don’t we write a song?” It’s nothing to do with TV or movies, it’s all about music and writing a song together. Who knows a year down the road what may happen. It always starts out organically with, “Let’s do music together.” The music leads you down the road or it doesn’t.
CN: How do you feel about being on this side of the writing? Now that you’re out front, is it a different feeling for you, or is it all the same?
JW: I am a lot older now and it’s about telling the true story. You know, it’s about telling a story and why. I wrote commercial songs for 30 years, and now I’m writing about real things that have happened in my life. It’s not about two girls sitting on the back of a truck drinking beer anymore for me.
CN: Your video for “What a Wonderful World,” is that how you see life? Was that your idea to put the eerie spin on the classic song?
JW: That was Adam Box’s idea. He’s been my producer for my EP and the “What a Wonderful World” video. My publisher asked me to do the cover of the song. I spoke to Adam and said, “Let’s do something weird.” This was right around the time of the election and the George Floyd death and how crazy the world was then. When we were talking about it being a wonderful world video, we were saying, “Well, maybe it isn’t a wonderful world,” then we thought, “Well, maybe it is.” We ended it with, “Yes, it is a wonderful world after all.” In the video we point at it all, riots, babies, the good and bad.
CN: What do you have coming up, any touring or shows?
JW: I have a big writers show that I am doing here in Nashville at Puckett’s Leiper’s Fork on February 16th. It’s going to be a great night, we have a big line up of amazing writers that I’m playing with. Keith Stegall, who produces Alan Jackson, along with Dave Gibson and Troy Johnson..
CN: As we’ve talked today, I have been smiling listening to some of the people you’ve worked with, and you have so many more. These are all bucket list people for most musicians. It’s been fun to hear about it.
JW: I was that guy who was knocking on doors for many years, it took me a long time to get to this point.
CN: This is my last last question for you. It’s called “One Grab.” The scenario is you have to leave your home. Your family and pets are all safe and you can run into your house to grab one thing. What do you grab?
JW: If everybody is safe, I’ll grab my guitar.
CN: You are a true musician. Thank you for your time tonight Jack.
JW: It’s been my pleasure, thank you.
CN: I am going to put it out there, I hope Bruce Willis calls you next week to get together.
JW: (Laughs) Well, thank you. I hope so too!
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Photo courtesy of H. Jack Williams