CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS COMES ALIVE! WHILE SMOKIN’ HUMBLE PIE
I’ve met very few rock stars in my lifetime, that is, people who genuinely fit the definition. Officially, the term ‘rock star’ is a noun defined as “a famous and successful singer or performer of rock music.” Names like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, and Van Halen are so monumental in their contributions to the term’s ideal that their musicianship made it a verb. These bands took their playing to another level and set the bar high for those that would follow, challenging them to first serve the music before you inhabit the lifestyle. These guys didn’t learn their moves from Guitar Hero, nor did they learn to play the notes from a YouTube video. They created the defining music of the genre and their rock star performances unfolded on stage as they became part of the instruments they played. The recipe for rock star has but two ingredients – passion and dedication, and neither can be taught or handed down. Rock stars are born in a likeness all their own, pushed from the womb shouting out loud their intention to become “King of the Night Time World.” Before long, they’ll Rock and Roll Over and “Walk This Way.” Music is their gravity, pulling them towards the instrument they cannot live without. Finding this singular focus in the distracted world of the 21st century isn’t as common as it was in decades past. Personalities of this type seem almost antique in a modern world that boasts cutting corners and demands instant gratification. In drummer, Christopher Williams, I found one of those rock star personalities. What drew me in wasn’t just how well he plays, it was the fiery passion he plays with. His is not just a story of learning the notes and a desire to hit things. It’s the journey from hitter to player, from drummer to musician to rock star.
It would seem that Christopher Williams came into this world with one thing on his mind – drumming. If his mother sang him a lullaby, he probably gave it a beat. He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina to parents who were rock kids of the 60s and 70s. They listened to a wide range of music, with his dad and uncle being enthusiasts. At home was a brother five years older. All of these familial ties would play a role in shaping his future and the musician he would become. At age three, in early 1989, his father passed away. It was a life altering event that changed the road his musical journey would take. After his father’s death, his mother found it difficult to listen to rock music because it reminded her too much of her husband. Instead, she started listening to such artists as Amy Grant, Kathy Mattea, Michael Bolton, Carly Simon, and The Monkees, having been a fan since childhood. On the flip side, his older brother got into hair bands. A budding drummer, Christopher was fascinated with the “beginner” kit his brother had. Unfortunately, the strength of his fascination led to the destruction of more than one of these K-Mart type models. His determination to play, however, wasn’t squashed for lack of an instrument for long.
About kindergarten age, Christopher was asked in school what he wanted to do when he grew up. Without missing a beat, he said that he wanted to play drums and tour the world. Thinking him just a dreamer, he was asked for a more practical occupation. In the mind of a rock star, there is no alternative, and Christopher had none. His constant banging on the desk, or anything that made noise, led to repeated complaints to his mother. His teachers were just beginning to find out what his mother already knew – that her son was fully intent on becoming a professional drummer. Having destroyed every beginner kit his mother brought home, he often built his own out of furniture, and this was no childlike effort. He sat on a white laundry hamper to play a double bass kit made of ottomans with pedals built from blocks, wicker benches that served as toms, and wooden lamp tables that became cymbals. Watching MTV, he played along. Eventually, he used the front porch as a stage, jamming to bands like Motley Crue, Slaughter, and Van Halen while cars were driving by. His brother’s musical taste had moved towards heavy metal, 90s alt rock, and grunge, among other things, and Christopher tested the styles behind the “kit.” When he saw his first concert, The Kentucky Headhunters, he fell in love with the performance, and the desire to play live on stage grew even stronger.
In fourth grade, he got his first real drum set for Christmas, a five-piece Ludwig SL kit. The following spring, he participated in a talent show at his elementary school, playing along to the Georgia Satellites, “Keep Your Hands To Yourself,” over the PA system. Though the PA kept cutting out, he was playing confidently when suddenly, there was no more sound. He’d forgotten about the live fade out on the recording and found himself playing along to nothing. Faced with a real live “oh shit” moment, he had to decide whether to stop or keep playing in hopes that the PA would come back on. He chose to improvise his own ending. Afterwards, school teacher, Ms. Jones, told the audience that she was confident the school could survive an earthquake after going through his performance. It was the first time the teachers had seen what he could do behind a drum kit and that aha moment when they realized, “Hey, the kid really can play drums.” It was an important first step in live performance and a precursor to a live performance that would change his life.
Every musician that dreams of being a rock star has that one image, one sound, one live performance that turned their yen into a fait accompli. For Christopher, that happened on September 4, 1996. KISS was playing underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the MTV Awards. Drummer, Peter Criss, was playing a black and chrome striped drum kit. Seeing this band look the way they did, and play like they owned the rock world, made Christopher a rabid KISS fan from that moment on. As he tells it, he became such a KISS nut that his teachers thought he might need psychiatric help.
In October of his sixth grade year, Christopher’s mother got a job transfer and the family moved to Greenville, South Carolina. Before starting the seventh grade, he would be in three different schools. This marked the beginning of his music education and he dove in with a vengeance. Taking lessons from Paul Riddle, (drummer, Marshall Tucker Band, 1973-1983), he learned some technique and basic music reading. From this point on, Christopher was consumed by his desire to live and breathe through the instrument. He played the drums constantly, averaging seven hours a day. His daily routine consisted of playing a pad in the morning before school, on the bus, and between classes whenever possible. At school, he had band class and was often granted permission to play the school’s kit through his lunch break. On the bus ride home, he played on the pad. After school, he did a little homework and then played along to KISS bootlegs and various bands’ albums for 90 minutes to two hours. From there, he’d eat dinner, finish the rest of his homework, and play again when time allowed (a 9pm cutoff time was agreed to with the neighbors). I could hear the exuberance of youth in his voice when he said, “All I wanted to do was play.”
For Christmas that year, he was given his first double pedal. After playing pseudo double bass with one foot for a few years, he would now find himself diving in head first and expanding his technique. Whatever he could do with his right foot, he wanted to do with his left, and he applied the same principle to his hands. Anything he could play with his hands, he would work on playing with his feet, and when bored, he practiced with a left-handed setup for a week or so. That same Christmas, he also received a subscription to Modern Drummer magazine and devoured it. When he was introduced to the music of Humble Pie by his uncle, Peter Stroud, it took him to a new level of devotion in his playing and he became a servant to the music he loved.
Stroud had moved from Greensboro, North Carolina to Atlanta to pursue opportunities in music, but continued to have an impact on Christopher’s life and an inspirational presence in his professional aspirations. Peter Stroud has been Sheryl Crow’s lead guitarist and band leader for sixteen years. During those years, as well as previously, he has played with Don Henley, Pete Droge, and Sarah McLachlan, to name a few. During Christopher’s seventh grade year, Stroud gave him a cassette tape of Humble Pie’s 1973 Live at Winterland concert. Christopher said hearing that music was like being given the keys to the kingdom, still considering it to be the first time he heard “REAL Rock and Roll.” It opened up a world of possibilities to discover and play music on a level he didn’t know existed. He now has that album in four different formats, which reflects the significance that inspiration has had in his music career. To quote a Bruce Springsteen lyric, “You can’t start a fire without a spark,” and this fueled his passion to come Alive! as a player and deliver Smokin’ performances on the drum kit. He went against the musical grain of the 90s he was growing up in and said no to grunge and Garth, choosing instead to embrace the music of rock icons, KISS and Humble Pie, in pursuit of his rock star dreams.
When Christopher hit high school, he kicked that dream into overdrive. Playing drums was no longer just a back beat to his daily schedule. Both his in-school and out-of-school environments were almost entirely saturated with music education, playing, and practicing in some form. Outside of the required academic courses, he immersed himself in music classes. The Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina offered half-day instruction to high school students to supplement their core education with an emphasis in music. There he studied jazz, music theory, orchestral percussion, drum set, rudimental & timpanic studies, and ear training. Sometimes the students would skip regular school to attend a lecture or sit in on another class at the Fine Arts Center. He referred to it as “skipping school to go to school,” often frowned upon by teachers at his high school. Through this enhanced education, he said he became a musician, “not just someone who hits things.”
The beginnings of Christopher’s well-rounded musical capabilities started with his high school experience, both inside and outside the classroom. Studying timpani came rather easily, having to multitask without thinking about it. Playing with an orchestra, and tuning his drums within the performance, contributed to his physical and mental training. Being a singing drummer required he separate his brain functions without effort while using his four extremities and singing either lead vocals or harmonizing. His drumming improved through the various musical settings and genres he played in because he learned to utilize dynamics to the extreme. He played with a jazz quartet for three years during high school, played with a metal band on open mic nights locally, and played with a rock band, usually in a pub-type setting for “whatever we could make.” Add to this his orchestral experience and you no longer have simply a rock or metal drummer. His skill set would match the breadth of his passion for playing when it was time to take the next step into college.
Midway through his senior year, Christopher hadn’t made plans to attend college. His one desire was to play music for a living, and higher education hadn’t factored into his view of the future. His percussion teacher and mentor at the Fine Arts Center, Gary Robinson, as well as his mother and uncle all urged him to consider college. Though late in the game, he moved forward and sent out his applications. He received acceptance letters from the schools he desired most – College of Charleston in South Carolina and Mars Hill University in North Carolina. Quinton Baxter was his point of contact at College of Charleston and he’d laid out a plan for Christopher to major in jazz. All that was needed was a high enough SAT score to seal the deal. Rushing through his first attempt, “just to get out of there,” the score didn’t meet their qualifications requirement. He would later retake it with focus and score much higher. Meanwhile, an instructor from Mars Hill was courting him with an alternative course of study. Christopher auditioned and passed the test, and his initial SAT score was not a factor. Accepting their offer, he signed a scholarship agreement. Williams received an acceptance letter from College of Charleston just days later.
Christopher’s college experience didn’t turn out to be all he’d hoped it would be. Unbeknownst to Williams, the percussion director he’d auditioned for had accepted an offer with another university over the summer. Beginning the fall semester, he suddenly found himself studying under a very different teacher with a completely different approach. Portions of Christopher’s curriculum were repetitive and the music lessons he was offered weren’t challenging. Despite the college setting, he was back to teaching himself certain elements of his music education and gigging to supplement his studies. The end of the school year brought required participation in an end of the year concert. He was to play with the jazz group and percussion ensemble to complete his course studies for the semester. Months prior, Christopher had committed to playing a paid gig on the quad with his band and told his instructor the date. Despite having assured him this would not present a problem, the spring performance was scheduled for the same day. Missing the final afternoon rehearsal for the gig meant he would not be allowed to play in the formal concert that evening. Consequently, the instructor failed him in most of his classes. After the missed performance, Christopher stopped going to classes and moved home a week before the end of the semester. Looking back on his college experience, he said the best thing about it was playing late night jam sessions with fellow musicians and brothers in the music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha. Otherwise, it was a disappointing brush with higher education and the practicalities of music application in that setting.
Returning to Greenville, Christopher “Got To Choose” his own path to professional opportunities as a musician, utilizing the resources at his disposal. Since childhood, Williams had recorded several jams in his uncle’s basement studio. Going to several consecutive winter NAMM shows, he began making industry contacts and proving he could hang. One of these sessions involved jamming with Bernard Fowler of the Rolling Stones, Carmine Rojas of David Bowie/Rod Stewart, Teddy Andreadis of Guns N Roses/Alice Cooper, and his uncle Peter. For a budding rock star, these were cool experiences, but despite the impressive connections, his uncle never used them to get Christopher a gig. To date, he’s earned every gig he’s ever gotten. Some of them came from being seen and heard while working in a local music shop. His impressive play had people offering him gigs on the spot. Attempting to salvage what he’d started at Mars Hill and ultimately transfer to College of Charleston, he enrolled at Greenville Tech for a year to get caught up. To pay the tuition and help out with bills at home, he took a part-time job roofing. Even with the income he earned, he still couldn’t afford the books to go with the classes. His only option was to try and do the work without the benefit of the textbooks. His daily schedule involved going to school, roofing in the afternoon, rehearsing and playing gigs with his bands at night, and returning home to tackle his homework sans books. With just a week left to withdraw from classes without penalty, and seeing how far behind he was without the various school books required, Christopher made the decision to leave school and go to work full-time. Expenses were such that he couldn’t justify the value of “a performance degree” over the need to earn a living and the hours lost to school instruction. Though his leaving college was a disappointment to his mother, pursuing music full-time made the most sense and put him in the one place he most liked to be – behind the drum kit.
Christopher had years of music instruction behind him when he made the transition from musician as a student to musician as a working drummer. In school, he’d learned to play the notes. Now that he was on the hunt for gigs, the pointed question was, “How’s your pocket?” It proved to be deep. Landing his first touring gig in the fall of 2007, he played with Yo Momma’s Big Fat Booty Band until February, 2008. In March, he made the move to Nashville with the intention of taking his dream to the next level. Days prior to the move, he played a gig in Charlotte on a Thursday night, played again in Atlanta on Friday night, and by Saturday evening he was packing a U-Haul bound for Tennessee. He drove overnight the six hours or so to Nashville, arriving as the sun came up on Sunday, March 2. Quickly unpacking, he started work at Meinl Cymbals the next day, a job he’d lined up at winter NAMM in January. His job at Meinl was product specialist for the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. The salesman he replaced had left things intentionally unclear with the accounts he inherited, which led to strained relationships and lagging sales. It didn’t take long to figure out that sales were not his forte. What he longed for was to be a “Road Runner,” touring with a band and “Rockin’ In The U.S.A.” When that opportunity was offered, he took it, and never looked back.
Richie Scholl, an Australian guitarist and solo artist, had recently moved to Nashville and was gearing up for a summer tour in 2008. He needed a drummer and Christopher fit the bill. Within three weeks of their meeting, he left Meinl and went into rehearsals for the upcoming tour. It was just the beginning of his rock star road trips and four years of averaging 200-250 dates a year. Supplementing his road life, he often played triples and quads in town, keeping with the philosophy “never turn down a gig until you’re too busy to say yes.”
In May of 2010, Nashville suffered an epic flood causing loss and damage in the billions of dollars. Christopher participated in the cleanup efforts, clearing out Peter Frampton’s locker at Soundcheck, where countless instruments being stored there were lost to the floodwaters. The same week, fate would intervene yet again. Phil Shouse was playing with a tribute band called The Mighty Dan Halen at the time, and Christopher was playing with Missy Johnson. Though a collaborative Led Zeppelin/Van Halen tribute concert never came off as planned due to the flood, Missy Johnson would instead perform her original set. The Dan Halen lineup still showed up to support Johnson and were introduced to Williams’ playing that evening. Phil and Christopher had a mutual respect for each other, Williams having seen Shouse in John Corabi’s band, and the duo began hanging out. Citing their love for KISS, Van Halen, and Humble Pie, their brotherly bond was quickly solidified. Shouse would later bring Williams in as part of John Corabi’s band.
In 2011, Christopher went out with Leroy Powell on his summer tour as the support act for Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. Upon returning home, Williams played at Big Shotz in Nashville frequently. To supplement his income, he ended up handing out flyers for $10/hour in front of that same bar. He said he took every shift he could get back then, sometimes working ten hours a day. Whether it’s playing drums or working odd jobs until the gigs pay the bills, there is no quit or fear of hard work in Christopher Williams. As the year came to a close, gigs started happening, and he played his first KISSmas show with Phil Shouse that December. In January, 2012, he joined Phil Shouse in a new lineup of Blackfoot, a 70s Southern rock band known for their hits, “Train, Train” and “Highway Song.” Throughout the year, he played at the Benchmark in Nashville with his cover band, The Disappointments. He described them as a “loud but tight musical band that played whatever we wanted, avoiding the typical downtown covers like the plague.” The group embraced that Fireball spirit, yet still managed to play an inspired set. Even as a downtown cover band, they successfully sold merchandise with their slogan, “We’re sorry if we didn’t offend anyone!” to tourists, even locals, and relished the ingenuity they brought to the music on those “Crazy Crazy Nights.” 2012 would also be the start of a two year run with country artist, Jessta James.
A Thousand Horses had yet to make a splash in Nashville in the fall of 2013 when they lost their drummer and hired Christopher for a four-week tour. In addition, he did some showcases in town with them and played a New Year’s Eve gig at 12th & Porter. The band was being courted by several labels in their down time, and when they contacted Christopher to play at that all important showcase, he’d already committed to a six-week spring tour with Zach Ryan and the Renegades. A Thousand Horses ended up being signed by Big Machine Label Group, and he lost out on that opportunity due to bad timing. That’s the way it often happens in the music business, but one door closing may lead to a bigger opportunity, as it did for Christopher later that year. Through mutual friends, he’d started hanging out with Wolf Hoffmann and Peter Baltes of the German/American metal band, Accept. When their rhythm guitarist and drummer decided to pursue their own band full time at the end of 2014, Christopher was ultimately hired as the new drummer and Uwe Lulis was hired as the new guitarist. The official announcement was made on April 12, 2015. He went overseas with them this past summer and returned to Europe for another month of shows beginning November 16. His addition to this iconic metal band has given his “Restless and Wild” spirit a place to spread its wings on the drum kit. His style of play, and passion for the instrument, breathe new life into their classic catalog as well as the newer songs breaking ground with a younger generation of metal fans.
Christopher’s passion for playing drums isn’t confined to the gigs he plays. He is an inspirational teacher for students who have a hunger for the instrument and a “Burning” desire to learn to speak through it. He prefers to work with intermediate to advanced students who understand that he can teach them how to execute the notes, but not teach them the passion of players like John Bonham or Keith Moon. That kind of inspired play comes from the heart, when playing drums is all you want to do. His love of playing drums extends not only to the sounds they make and the voices that speak through his dynamic playing, but to the materials they’re crafted from. He’s a gear collector of sorts with an appreciation for the history that comes with the hardwood and hardware of percussion instruments. In 2000, the drum kit Peter Criss played under the Brooklyn Bridge on the night Christopher became a devout KISS follower, was sold at auction. He remembers it because he mowed lawns the summer before starting high school just to be able to afford the auction catalog in which it appeared. At the time, he said he would’ve sold his soul to get one of those kits. Fast forward to the spring of 2014, during the week of the Zach Ryan tour. Visiting Las Vegas, he saw that kit at KISS Monster Mini Golf and inquired as to its availability. After a handful of payments and the perfect timing of a fly date show, the kit was shipped to his home that July. Officially, it’s the ‘B’ Rig from the 1996/1997 KISS Alive Worldwide Reunion Tour in black and chrome stripes. As he spoke about it for this interview, he was standing in front of it at his home. The awe in his voice was palpable.
Christopher Williams might just as well have come into this world with the term ‘rock star’ printed after his name on his birth certificate. From the first time he saw a drum kit and had access to it, he embodied that Destroyer attitude. He describes the transformation that takes place behind the kit by saying, “When I sit down to play, it often seems like an out-of-body experience, very surreal and peaceful, like you aren’t even there. Yet on a metal or hard rock gig, this other person comes out, I call him ‘the other guy’, and everything in front of me has to be destroyed.” It’s an all-consuming passion that makes him one with the instrument. His love of music and dedication to his craft are the most extreme I’ve seen in a professional musician. Examples of that were abundant in our conversation. His most frustrating, yet delightful conundrum is when he has to tell someone that he can’t play drums because he’s already playing drums. If he could be in two places at once to play, he would do it in a heartbeat. Not only does he value the history of music, he invests his hard earned money in collecting the instruments that created it. We started our conversation talking about his extensive cowbell collection that includes a mint condition 1969 model Ludwig/Paiste golden tone 5” cowbell. It’s the same model used on some of the most famous records in rock history recorded by Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie, and the Rolling Stones. He acquired it off eBay two years ago. Many others in his collection represent tones of several “famous” cowbell sounds.
Christopher’s drum collection includes a DW kit he recovered and restored after the Nashville flood in 2010. It was originally built in June of 2008 for Peter Frampton’s ’08/’09 tour. He’d always wanted a DW kit and decided to invest in the restoration of this one. This December will be the fifth annual Merry KISSmas show. The third year featured a 15-piece vintage fiberglass drum kit Christopher built as a replica of Peter Criss’ Destroyer/Rock and Roll Over Tour kit from ’76/’77. His attention to detail and care in craftsmanship are extraordinary on these two kits, and both are worthy of his rock star credentials in the driver’s seat. Playing behind either of his KISS kits, and dressing the part for the annual KISSmas show, brings the dream full circle for Christopher. Many hopeful players fall in love with the rock star image, as he did as a child, but few will dedicate themselves to the work ethic it takes to actually become one. It’s a creed; it’s a craft; it’s a craving not easily satisfied. Christopher started out as a young drummer with a rock star dream. He matured in both skill set and performance to become the professional musician he is today. Through relentless dedication and the passion he bleeds, he has earned the right to “Rock and Roll All Nite”……..and in true rock star fashion…..play drums ev-er-y day!
Follow Christopher on social media…..
Subscribe to Christopher’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/drumgodpc3
For tour information: http://www.acceptworldwide.com/
Christopher is endorsed by the following companies:
Humes & Berg cases
Watch Christopher in action!
30 Mai 2015 Accept Fast as a Shark Rockavaria München Olympiastadion
Leroy Powell & The Messengers – Look Out World (I’m Comin’) – Pasa Robles
From the Kid Rock “Born Free” tour stop in Pasa Robles, CA
If you’re in Nashville on Saturday, December 19, this is a great night of music for a charitable cause!
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