Fans, friends remember writer Paul Williams as pioneer (2024)

Fans of the late Paul Williams remembered the influential music journalist Friday for his insight, creativity and originality.

“Paul Williams was a believer,” R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck wrote on “He started being a believer when he was 16, tugging on your coat sleeve, going, ‘Hey, pal, this is the real thing. You should listen to this, for these reasons.’”

Williams’ once-vibrant voice was silenced in recent years as the long-time Encinitas resident was overcome by progressing dementia following a 1995 bicycle accident.

He died Wednesday night with his eldest son, Kenta Williams, by his side. Williams, 64, also is survived by son Taiyo, wife Cindy Lee Berryhill and their son, Alexander, 11.

News of his death was reported Friday nationwide by media outlets including CNN, Spin magazine and Rolling Stone.

At the time of her husband’s death, Berryhill, a renowned local singer and songwriter, was in New York City. She had attended a tribute event for Williams on Sunday at the Boo-Hooray Gallery.

About 50 to 60 people came to the event for Williams, often credited as the founding father of rock criticism for his early writing in Crawdaddy! magazine, which he started from his college dorm a year before Rolling Stone was launched.

Williams also wrote more than 30 books, often spoke at symposiums on the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan and helped introduce readers to the work of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, later keeping the writer’s memory alive after his death by serving as his literary executor.

With unprecedented access to artists who embraced him as the first journalist to take their work seriously, Williams also sang in the backup chorus to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Give Peace a Chance” and was with the couple during their famous “Bed-in for Peace” in Toronto in 1968.

Berryhill said she and Alexander talked with Williams in a video chat via her cellphone about an hour before his death.

“He couldn’t talk, but we got to tell him how much we loved him and how beautiful the gallery show was and how many people came and were impressed with his work,” she said. “It was beautiful to be able to tell him that. I know that was important for him.”

Berryhill performed at the gallery with Lenny Kaye, guitarist for the Patti Smith Group and a friend of Williams’.

Back in San Diego, Mojo Nixon was among the local musicians remembering Williams on Friday.

“You’ve got to imagine that in ’65, ’67, Dylan’s doing his best work but nobody is writing about it seriously,” Nixon said. “Literally no one. There’s only Paul Williams. He’s taking it as serious.”

Nixon, who performed in a benefit for Williams two years ago in San Francisco, said he was a fan of his writing and thrilled to discover that the Crawdaddy! founder had written about him.

“I didn’t think he knew who I was,” Nixon said. “I was honored that he had heard my record.”

Stan Ridgway, perhaps best known for the song “Mexican Radio” he recorded with Wall of Voodoo, also recognized Williams as the writer who helped music journalism evolve from the teenybopper days of Tiger Beat to thoughtful analysis.

“When reading Williams, I was drawn and wanted to listen to these songs he wrote about as high art, modern myth and novel,” Ridgway wrote in an e-mail to the U-T. “The music was beginning to grow, and Paul and Crawdaddy! were on top of it. The writings and reviews made us aspire.

“Wlliams wrote about music like somebody writing about a new path in American culture,” he continued. “It was deep. As a young musician back then in the ’60s, reading Paul Williams and Crawdaddy! seemed like more than having just a hit record. That didn’t matter at all. Changing the world is what mattered.”

Berryhill’s Facebook page has been flooded with condolences from fans and friends from around the world. Among them was David Anderle, who produced records for Judy Collins, Kris Kristofferson, Aaron Neville and many other artists.

“Some of the best times I ever spent during one of the best periods of my life were spent with Paul,” he wrote. “And because of those times, we will be forever linked. That makes me both happy and proud.”

Williams’ reputation was held so high that even musicians accustomed to playing before thousands of fans a night sometimes would find themselves star-struck to meet the writer.

“I’ve bought and read everything with his name on it,” Buck of R.E.M. said. “I was thrilled to meet the guy who interviewed the Doors. You go, ‘Wow, those were the days when giants walked the earth, and here was a guy who talked to them for his mimeographed magazine.’”

Berryhill said a private service is planned in North County for Williams. A public memorial will be held sometime in April in the Bay Area, where many of Williams’ family members live.

To learn more about Williams or to make a donation to his survivors, visit


Fans, friends remember writer Paul Williams as pioneer (2024)


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