Lefty Williams finds success as a guitarist despite having only one arm

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Lefty Williams finds success as a guitarist despite having only one arm

By PATRICK DONOHUE
pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com
Published Thursday, January 17, 2013   |  749 Words  |  


As a young boy growing up in Marietta, Ga., Jason "Lefty" Williams loved the rock 'n' roll of the 1960s and '70s and wanted desperately to emulate his idols, guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman and David Gilmour.

But there was a crucial -- to some, heartbreaking -- difference between the boy and his heroes. They were born with two arms, and Williams only had one.

Born without the lower half of his right arm, Williams was unfazed by this setback and by age 6 had helped invent an apparatus to which a guitar pick could be affixed. He now could rock like Hendrix and Page.

"I am so stubborn that the thought that I couldn't play guitar never really entered my mind," said Williams, 38. "It was really always a matter of 'how.' 'How can I make this work?' 'What can I build to help me play?' It was never a matter of 'Can I make this work?'"

That same can-do attitude has helped Williams create a life for himself in music, one that has spanned more than three decades and will bring Williams and the eponymous Lefty Williams Band to The Smokehouse on Hilton Head Island. The band is scheduled to perform at 9 p.m. Friday.

Williams discusses his nickname, his band and Led Zeppelin.

Question. Who nicknamed you "Lefty?"

Answer. It really just sort of materialized. My real name is ... Jason Cochise Williams. I don't remember who gave it to me. It was just something that people called me in my neighborhood. I was in a lot of different bands in high school and I was looking to reinvent myself I guess, so I just decided that I would start letting people call me that. I kind of wish I hadn't, though, to be honest. Well, there is a Lefty Williams who was a (disgraced) baseball player and "Lefty" is a pretty common and kind of overused nickname in the blues genre. People think I'm a blues guitarist all the time. That's just not what I do.

Q. How did you invent the apparatus that allows you to play guitar?

A. My first thought was to go to the guy who makes my prosthetic arms, and the first thing he came up with was kind of a leather sock, and it just didn't work at all. So then I started thinking about a series of straps that could wrap around my elbow. We experimented with a bunch of different ways to attach the pick. We used staples for a while then paperclips, and now we use a series or rivets and that seems to work really well and holds the pick in place.

Q. How would you describe the sound of the Lefty Williams Band?

A. I always tell people that if you like Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers then you'll probably like what we do. We're kind of a cross between those bands, though God knows I don't sing like Robert Plant -- though we do do a few Led Zeppelin covers. We do "Good Times, Bad Times" and "What Is and What Should Never Be."

Q. Is it daunting to cover such an iconic band?

A. On some of those songs, Plant sings really, really high, and I know I can't get there so I just avoid those songs all together. I've always told myself that if I couldn't do it right, I wasn't going to do it at all.

Q. Is this your first time playing in the Hilton Head area?

A. Yeah, it is, and we are really excited about it. We have gone up to Myrtle Beach and we have been in Charleston a bunch, but this is our first time on Hilton Head and we're looking forward to it.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.

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Official Website of Lefty Williams

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