You typically don’t hear the lead guitar player in a young rock band name-checking ’60s soul records as major influences, but then Sam Williams of The Weeks is not your typical lead guitar player.
“All I ever really wanted was to play like Wilson Pickett’s records,” Williams says during a break in the recording sessions for the band’s forthcoming full-length album, their second for Kings of Leon’s Serpent & Snakes label.
The native of Florence, Miss., goes on to mention other influential recordings by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and also Bruce Springsteen, none of which feature much lead guitar; sax players usually handled the lead parts.
“A lot of my solos are really what I would tell a sax player to do,” he says. “But we don’t have a sax player, so I just try to do it myself. I like making the guitar sound like another instrument, more than a loud guitar.”
Williams’ father Dwight is a professional bassist who not only introduced his son to Southern soul, but also turned him onto the Allman Brothers and other acts on Phil Walden’s Capricorn label, as well as The Band. Not surprisingly, the younger Williams’ first instrument was an electric bass — a gift from Dad at age 10. But in 2006, at 14, Williams switched to guitar, just a few months before he and three friends would start The Weeks.
“Much to his chagrin, I upgraded to the six strings,” he says of his dad’s reaction, with a laugh.
Williams also counts a number of contemporary Mississippi guitarists among his strongest influences, most notably Joshua Clark of Living Better Electrically and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars.
“Luther Dickinson, that’s the number one, he’s the king,” Williams enthuses. “I never saw Hendrix, I never saw Stevie or Duane, but I’ve seen Luther Dickinson with my own eyes, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s the greatest that ever lived. He does things with that guitar that I can’t fathom — and I’ve been watching him since I was probably 12. We toured with them a good bit years later, so he’s been sort of an indirect mentor.”
“Bizarre” is how he describes his own style. “I broke my left thumb when I was a kid, so the wingspan of my left hand is a solid inch more than my right, and my left thumb is all bowed out.” he explains. “My fret hand is bizarrely bigger than my other, so I use a lot of thumb wrap. I also like to use the pick with my thumb and forefinger and use the other three for fingerpicking.”
Since he first switched to guitar, Williams has almost exclusively played Fenders. “I’ve got a Deluxe Telecaster and a Thinline Telecaster,” The Weeks’ axeman says. “But Gibson is letting me hold on to a traditional Les Paul right now, and I’m kind of loving it. I’ve never played a Les Paul before, but I’ve kind of taken to it.
“I don’t know anything about guitars really,” he confesses. “I know how they work, I know all the music side, all the theory stuff. But the actual electronics of it and all that shit, I have no clue. I don’t spend money on guitars. I bought a Deluxe when I was 15 for like 400 bucks, and my action is raised with a McDonald’s breakfast wrapper that’s probably like five years old.”