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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam