Sunday, April 14, 2013



This is a post triggered through reading the The Times obituary of this man – Paul Williams – billed by them: ‘Writer hailed as the ‘godfather of rock journalism.’ This intrigued me.



‘It's not too much of a stretch to say that Paul Williams invented rock criticism. Yes, there were others in the U.S., including Mike Jahn at the New York Times and Al Aronowitz at the the New York Post, Lillian Roxon as the New York correspondent for various Australian newspapers, and Gloria Stavers at 16 magazine who covered the emerging rock culture in the 1960s. But it was the critical vocabulary Williams developed, his highly intelligent but instinctive approach to music and the intellectually rigorous, emotionally transparent, spontaneous style of writing that influenced so many of us.’ – Tribute to Paul Williams by Wayne Robins on his website Wayne’s Words.


So according to Wikipedia, In January 1966, Williams created the first national US magazine of rock criticism (Crawdaddy) on the campus of Swarthmore College with the help of some fellow science fiction fans. The first issue was 10 mimeographed pages written entirely  by Williams.’

According to The Times: ‘Williams was a precocious 17-year old college student when the first few issues were produced in fanzine style from his college dormitory. Within 18 months, Crawdaddy’s circulation had grown from 500 mimeographed copies to 25,000 and the magazine had an office in New York.’

Crawdaddy was launched 18-months before Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone. The magazine’s tribute to Williams by David Fricke is here

The name came from the Richmond Club where the Rolling Stones played their early gigs.

According to a great piece on the website by Jim DeRogatis

‘Wenner came to him a year later when he started Rolling Stone to ask for some advice. Williams told the future publishing magnate that what readers wanted most was hard information about the musicians they loved. “I wasn’t interested in giving it to them,” Williams told me when I interviewed him in the late ’90s. “To me it was about what we could learn about each other through our responses to music. I recognized from the beginning that Jann would leave me in the dust, but that was fine. I didn’t even try to compete.”

‘Indeed, Williams left the magazine he founded in 1968—though by that time, under his editorship,Crawdaddy! had published many of the most important voices of early rock criticism, including Jon Landau (future manager of Bruce Springsteen), Sandy Pearlman (future manager of Blue Oyster Cult and producer of the Clash’s second album), and most importantly Richard Meltzer—the first true individualist in rock writing, predating and inspiring even the great Lester Bangs. Williams gave all of them the most valuable gift any editor can give a writer: the space and the freedom to make a mess on the page. But he never stopped writing himself.’


This is the earliest issue of Crawdaddy in The Generalist Archive from 5th March 1972. Its fire-damaged (in case your wondering) and is only Section Two. [I’ve got six other issues from 1973/1974 in better condition.]

That’s Jim Capaldi, former drummer with Traffic, in the US promoting his first solo album. The mag also contains articles on Ravi Shankar, Todd Rundgren [I think that’s him on either side of Capaldi on the cover], Nilsson, filmmaker John Cassavetes and Bo Diddley. More importantly for our immediate purposes, an article by Paul Williams and Ray Mungo entitled ‘A Voyage to Japan’ which includes this fabulous photo of the two of them by Rosanne Rubinstein.


This is a real interesting discovery. Raymond Mungo (right) was it turned out, the co-founder of the Liberation News Service, a New Left Underground press news service, which published bulletins from 1967 ton 1981. According to Wikipedia he’s still alive. There’s a great post about him on the blog Yunchtime


This is the cover of one package of material from the Liberation News Service, part of a haul that runs from Issue 430 [April 27, 1972] to Issue 473 [October 18, 1972], with some issues missing, held in the Generalist Archive. Cover pic shows black activist Angela Davis with unidentified other. Packages of material from LNS was sent to all underground papers and contained pages of b&w photography and cartoons/comix plus pages of news stories, all of which were free to reproduce. Mainly political material.

Okay back to Paul and Crawdaddy. Much more on the mag in this Wikipedia entry, including its tangled history up to the present time. 

This book contains the early issues of Crawdaddy. You can read some extracts on Google Books here.

The first issue (Feb 7th 1966] carried an editorial entitled ‘Get off My Cloud’  which begins as follows:

‘You are looking at the first issue of a magazine of rock ‘n’ roll criticism. Crawdaddy! will feature neither pin-ups nor news-briefs; the specialty of this magazine is intelligent writing about pop music. Billboard, Cash Box etc, serve very well as trade news magazines; but their idea of a review is: “a hard-driving rhythm number that should spiral rapidly up the charts just as (previous hit by same group) slides.” And the teen magazines are devoted to rock ‘n’ roll, but their idea of a discussion is a string of superlatives below a fold-out photograph. Crawdaddy! believes that someone is the US might be interested in what others have to say about the music they like.’

Paul Williams, Crawdaddy Founder, 'Godfather of Rock Criticism'  Dead at 64

Paul Williams in Times Square (via Boo-Hooray)

Fortunately there is a really great and lengthy interview with Paul Williams on by Pat Thomas (with Christopher Gurk) called ‘The Godfather of Rock Criticism’. It was done in a cafe in Koln,Germany in the mid-1990s. Tribute by Pat to Paul on an blog site

The interview is full of interesting stuff. He reveals that his model for Crawdaddy!  was a folk magazine called the Boston Broadside and he was also inspired by sf ‘zines.  Here’s a brief bit.

Pat Thomas:   How was Crawdaddy! initially published and distributed?

Paul Williams:   Well, it started out completely as a fanzine, and the first issue I mailed out to record companies and radio stations, and waited for something to happen. Same thing with the second issue. And I began selling it in newsstands in Boston and around Philadelphia and New York, and each issue kind of grew a little. We really didn't know anything was happening, it might've died between the third issue--there was a big gap, I think the third issue came out in March, I was still at Swarthmore. And then I had that problem which caused me to drop out of college, that you know about, Richard Farina's death. I went back to Boston, didn't know what I was going to do, and finally put together another issue of Crawdaddy! that was mimeographed and sold it at the Newport Folk Festival in July. And that, actually, was kind of a breakthrough. We put Bob Dylan on the cover, which was a good idea [laughs]; we sold a lot of copies at Newport. Simon & Garfunkel's office actually gave me $100 to write a little bio or something, but it was a way of giving me some money so I could print the next issue. But the response to that issue was very encouraging. And the other thing was I met Jac Holzman of Elektra at Newport, and he bought the first national ad for the next issue of the magazine, so it's like, all right, now we can do the next issue!’

FARINA1081 The bit I’ve underlined is really interesting. Why would Williams drop out of college because Richard Farina died? [Have found the answer here thanks to Pat Thomas.

‘Paul had been particularly close to singer/songwriter Richard Farina (best known as the writer of the seminal "Pack Up Your Sorrows" as well as the brother-in-law of Joan Baez, via his marriage to her sister Mimi). When Farina died, tragically young, in 1966 after a motorcycle accident, a penniless Williams attempted to stow away on a freight plane going from Philadelphia to California to attend the funeral. He was caught, arrested and briefly detained. Decades later, he wrote an article about how distraught he was by being unable to say "goodbye" to a friend and hero.’


Fariña died in a bike accident on April 30th, 1966, two days after the publication of his cult book ‘Been Down So Long It Looked Like Up To Me’

Fariña is, incidentally, a very interesting cat who I was into in a big way in the 1970s due to his novel and the records he made with Joan Baez’s sister Mimi Baez Farina. There’s a fabulous book that called ‘Positively 4th Street by David Hadja which documents the relationships between the Fariñas and Dylan & Joan. Must reread this. Just discovered that Pynchon dedicated ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ to Farina.

Back to Paul Williams and the chronology of his life with details extracted from the Paul Williams website and support fund site. Williams suffered from dementia and his money had to be raised for his medical bills.

In March 1967 he was organiser of the first New York City “Be-In”

In October 1968 he left Crawdaddy! after editing the first 19 issues and moved to a cabin in the woods in Mendocino, California.

In 1969 his first book ‘Outlaw Blues’ was published and he wrote a second called ‘Pushing Upwards’. He was to produce more than 24 books in total.

In 1969 he also was present for the recording of Give Peace A Chance’ in Lennon and Ono’s hotel bedroom in Montreal

That same year he ran Timothy Leary’s campaign to become governor of California.

He also hitched a ride to Woodstock in the Grateful Dead’s limousine.

What I didn’t know about Paul Williams was that he was a huge fan and friend of the sf writer Philip K. Dick, helped gain a wider readership for his work, wrote his biography and became his literary executor for a period. He also founded the Philip K. Dick Society after his death.

There’s a great post about their relationship on the ever excellent website.

He also pulled together ‘The Collected Stories of Theodore Sturgeon’.

‘His role in science-fiction fandom and the “zine” revolution also place him as a pivotal figure in the history of pre-internet self-publishing and fan culture.’

I also didn’t know that you could hear him locking and loading a rifle on The doors’ ‘Unknown Soldier’

Or that he was introduced to marijuana by Brian Wilson while sitting in a tent in Wilson’s living room listening to what would become ‘Smile.’



Hollywood Reporter

Boston Globe

The Slog




Final Treasure from the GENERALIST ARCHIVE:

This is a very rare copy of the only issue of ‘Rallying Point’ – a cultural/political journal founded by Paul Williams and Michael Price. The title came from the I Ching and the hexagram ‘Holding Together.’  It was published in Jan 1974

‘When there is a real rallying point, those who at first are hesitant or uncertain gradually come in of their own accord.’

The cover shows Bob Dylan with Sam Ervin, chair of the Senate Watergate Committee. The back cover by Alicia Bay Laurel

The centre of the magazine is the complete text of ‘Neurologic’ by Timothy Leary. Editorial intro says: ‘This book is another reason why Dr Timothy Leary is in solitary confinement in a California prison. You can download the text from

1 comment:

Chris Jackson said...
For early Crawdaddy. I was Arts editor of Cherwell at Oxford University in 1966 and wrote some music reviews, term "rock" still unknown, probably of things like Otis Redding, and they were well received. The "pop" music review was developing rapidly at the time. Seems Paul Williams was the first.