TEEN TIME – A SAMPLER ALBUM released by MGM-Verve Records in 1957, featured the recording debuts of several music-biz newcomers including: Hollywood’s Ricky “Teenage Idol” Nelson, Oakland’s Randy “Green, Green” Sparks, and Spokane, Washington’s very own Gary “Travelin’ Blues Boy” Williams. Nelson, of course, went on to become a major TV star, pop singer – and, well, a teen idol – while Sparks resurfaced later as the folkie founder of the New Christy Minstrels, and Williams went on to a long and interesting career in country and gospel music.

Born and raised in Spokane, Williams was inspired early on by his old 78 rpm records of America’s “Blue Yodeler,” Jimmie Rodgers. In 1949, at age 11, Williams received a guitar for Christmas and by ’53 he was performing live on KXOI, the town’s first television station. The Union Oil Co. began sponsoring his radio show on KSPO the following year. Soon he was also appearing on the local cowboy TV show, Saddle Up With Slim.

Later in ’54 Williams decided to attend the second annual Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Celebration in Meridian, Mississippi. Travelin’ cross-country to the event, Williams was arrested for hitchhiking near Colorado Springs. When the UPI newswire ran a photo of him perched up on the local police chief’s desk strumming his guitar, it made a big splash in the nation’s morning papers.  In the end, the lawmen chipped in and bought the kid a bus ticket to complete his journey southward.  When he arrived in Meridian, Williams was welcomed as a hero and he performed at the event, as did a pre-fame Elvis Presley.

Williams was back in Spokane working several network radio shows when in mid-’55 he was signed to Town hall Party – the west coast’s top country music TV program. He moved to Los Angeles and appeared for several years along with the likes of: Tex Ritter, Lefty Frizzell, the Collins Kids, Johnny Bond, Wanda Jackson, Carl Perkins, and Seattle’s own country star, Bonnie Guitar. Then in ’56 he went to Nashville and guested a few times on Webb Pierce’s ABC-TV show. Williams also performed on the Louisiana Hayride and Red Foley’s Ozark Mountain Jubilee. He returned to Town Hall Party and during the same season sang a few rock ‘n’ roll songs on Screen Gem’s daily TV show, Ranch Party.

Contacted by the big-time showbiz combine, MGM-Verve, Williams participated in his first professional recording sessions. His 1957 hillbilly bopper of a single, “Travelin’ Blues Boy” / “I’m Gonna Return” (Verve #10083) featured the stellar electric guitar-work of Merle Travis and the backing of additional Hollywood session heavies. The Teen Time album (MG-V-2083) which also featured a couple additional talents (Rock Murphy and Jeff Allen) – gave all of these young musicians a fairly prominent career boost, and is likely why Williams' "Travelin' Blues Boy" is best remembered today, and was even reissued in England a few years back on the MGM Rockabilly Vol. 2 LP.

The Fall of ’57 saw Williams forming a band that toured the western states, and by ’59 he was a regular on many a Grand Ole Opry concert tour.  Road-weary and longing a bit for home, Williams accepted an offer in May 1960 to spin discs at Spokane’s new country station, KPEG. Later that year he recorded his classic eponymous LP for the local Manito label, a disc that included his rockabilly twanger, “Walla Walla State Prison.”

Between 1961 and ’65 Williams cut numerous records and performed all over the region with his band, the Travelin’ Blues Boys. While gigging in Alaska in ’63 Williams penned a song which was released as a single by Seattle’s Panorama Records in August ’64. “Alaska” became a solid radio hit, charting at numerous stations, and attaining the #1 slot on several including Seattle’s country giant, KAYO.

This brief essay can’t begin to detail all of Williams recordings, or his many wild escapades. But it is a fact that he has recorded over 600 songs for at least 14 different labels, and his tunes have been covered by stars including Webb Pierce, Freddy Hart, and Spokane’s own Bobby Wayne. Williams also produced, wrote, or played guitar on local recordings by Little Aldene, Cliff Carl, and Charlie Peltier – and Folk Variety Records has issued several LPs worth of his band’s best recordings.

In 1975 Williams formed his own Gospel Time label, and his last 23 albums released since 1965 have been comprised of songs of faith, country hymns, and old-time nostalgia tunes. Today Williams continues touring, performing mainly for church groups.

[Note: This is an edited version of an essay that originally appeared in the “Northwest Music Archives” column of Seattle’s The Rocket magazine back in July, 1986.]

Text copyright © 1986, 2014 by Peter Blecha.