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Rock writers salute influential critic Paul Williams

Peter Blackstock
pblackstock@statesman.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 12, 2014

Much like the audience of the magazine itself, the crowd and panelists at Tuesday’s “Paul Williams and Crawdaddy! Magazine” session constituted a small but significant lot. A few dozen gathered in one of the Convention Center’s modest meeting rooms to hear Williams’ wife, songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill, lead a discussion about the late rock journalist who paved the way for many of his panelists.

Later, some of those panelists were off to major afternoon panels. NPR’s Ann Powers was conducting a SXSW Interview with St. Vincent, while Rolling Stone’s David Fricke was on a Rolling Stones panel moderated by Grammy Museum Bob Santelli. Spin and Rookie contributor was off to cover the P Diddy interview, while Ed Ward joked that “I’m not going anywhere after this” – but he’s been everywhere before this, including helping Williams,who passed away last year after a long battle with a brain injury, to launch Crawdaddy! in Greenwich Village in the mid-late 1960s.

Ward, a former American-Statesman music critic who helped get SXSW off the ground in the late ’80s, spoke the most at Tuesday’s panel, recounting humorous tales of those early Crawdaddy! days. It’s a bygone era, to be sure, but it’s worth remembering that SXSW originally was billed as a “Music and Media Conference,” and much of that media foundation was paved by the work that upstarts such as Williams’ magazine did. Would SXSW have existed without his efforts? Maybe. But many of those who attended in Tuesday’s panel likely would have had different roles, different futures.

Fricke spoke eloquently about the personal nature of Williams’ writing. “I always thought he was writing to ME,” Fricke said. “It was an informed humanity.” Powers perhaps got to the heart of Williams’ nature as one who loved and appreciated music when she observed the irony of the panel being scheduled at the same time as a speech by Jarvis Cocker of the legendary English band Pulp: “If Paul were still here and his panel was up against Jarvis Cocker, he would be watching Jarvis Cocker.”