Paul Williams: Founder of the hugely influential Crawdaddy! magazine

 

In the mid-1960s, as pop music evolved into rock, few publications catered for aficionados looking for more than basic information about the latest endeavours of Bob Dylan or the Beach Boys.

The US writer Paul Williams would go on to write authoritatively about both acts, but he was rightly hailed as the “Godfather of rock journalism” for launching Crawdaddy! in January 1966.

“You are looking at the first issue of a magazine of rock and roll criticism. Crawdaddy! will feature neither pin-ups nor news-briefs; the specialty of this magazine is intelligent writing about pop music,” Williams stated in issue No 1 of the fanzine he produced from his dormitory at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

He was still only 17, yet within 18 months his publication would grow from 500 copies of ten mimeographed pages stapled together to a proper print-run and a circulation of 25,000. It also inspired Jann Wenner to launch Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco in October 1967, 18 months before another celebrated US rock monthly, CREEM, appeared in Detroit. However, while Rolling Stone became a juggernaut, the pioneering Williams left Crawdaddy! at the end of 1968. “The battle had been won. The New York Times was reviewing rock music,” he later reflected.

He was the precocious child of a physicist and an administrator who had both worked on the Manhattan Project, the research programme that produced the first atomic bombs during the Second World War. A folk snob originally keener on the Greenwich Village and Boston folk scenes than the Beatles, he became a converted Anglophile on hearing the Rolling Stones and the Kinks and named Crawdaddy! after the club in Richmond, Surrey, where the Stones and Yardbirds made their early breakthrough.

The first issue featured a review of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, prompting a thank-you call from Paul Simon to the phone in the dorm corridor. Greatly affected by the death of folk singer Richard Fariña in a motorbike crash in April 1966, Williams dropped out of Swarthmore and went back to his native Boston. That July, he put Dylan on the cover of the fourth issue, a year after he’d “gone electric” at the Newport Folk Festival – and sold hundreds of copies at the very same event.

Williams was first to commission Jon Landau, Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer, writers who went on to transcend rock criticism and participate in the recordings made by artists they were closely associated with – Bruce Springsteen, Blue Öyster Cult or The Clash – as producers or lyricists. Hanging out with Brian Wilson, the Doors or Buffalo Springfield in Los Angeles, or composing thoughtful essays without worrying about the word count, made the venture all the more enjoyable, but Williams soon lost his “sense of wonder” and left the publication in the hands of others. “They paid me a little money for the trademark. I needed to get on with my life,” he said of his decision.

The freelance Williams still had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, hanging out with Crosby, Stills & Nash in Laurel Canyon, joining the chanting on the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance” in June 1969, or travelling to Woodstock with the Grateful Dead two months later.

But he was more interested in his personal journey, as documented in Time Between, a book he described as “almost a journal of intense communal living, travelling, LSD-taking.” While living on a commune in Canada in 1970, he wrote the meaning-of-life Das Energi – a spin on Marx’s Das Kapital – the first and only book published by Jac Holzman’s Elektra Records. It became an underground hit, selling 350,000 copies. A science-fiction buff from his early teens, when he published a sci-fi fanzine called Within, Williams befriended Philip K Dick and penned an exhaustive Rolling Stone article, as well as an authoritative biography of the influential author, who made him literary executor of his estate before his death in 1982.

California-based from the mid-Seventies, he edited the first book edition of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in 1981, and embarked on an ambitious three-part series of Bob Dylan, Performing Artist books, drawing on the 100-plus concerts he had seen by the singer-songwriter, as well as audio recordings. 

In 1993, he published Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles. That same year, he also revived Crawdaddy!, which had been dormant since 1979, as a quarterly newsletter, publishing 28 instalments over the next decade, despite suffering a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle accident in 1995. This led to early onset of dementia and necessitated a move to a nursing home four years ago.

His 1988 memoir was fittingly called The Map or Rediscovering Rock and Roll: A Journey. In its introduction, he described his interest in the music: “To me, rock and roll is a living force, resilient and stubborn. The only thing to do with rock and roll is to participate in it.”

Paul S Williams, writer and publisher: born Boston, Massachusetts 19 May 1948; married 1972 Sachiko Kanenobu (marriage dissolved, two sons); 1988 Donna Nassar (marriage dissolved); 1997 Cindy Lee Berryhill (one son); died Encinitas, California 27 March 2013.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial