Without even realizing, Zane Williams has been destined for a career in Texas Country music since his birth in Abilene. Even after his move to Nashville with eyes on a major record deal in 1999, the release of his first album seven years later — or two years before his actual departure from the “Music City” — hinted at such a destiny.
No, the desire to “Hurry Home” was not always in the cards, partly because he has spent most of his time already here. It was, however, in Texas where Williams learned to love the sweet sound of a slide on a steel guitar and where he began to shape his voice around influences like Willie Nelson and George Strait.
Even still, his story, the real inspiration to one of Texas’ most active and coveted songwriters began away from the music, away from Nashville or honky-tonks or dancehalls.
Williams began his musical journey in a mess hall during “Story Time with Zane.”
“I have always been interested in stories. I have always enjoyed to read or watch movies or listen to songs that told stories, but I guess that I kind of have a soft heart, so those stories always seem to hit me deep,” explained Williams, who has written two No. 1 singles performed by Cody Johnson and Pat Green. “Something about that is how I am able to write stories of my own that do the same thing.
“It’s funny when I was a counselor at a camp for inner-city kids back in college, and sometimes we would all show up to the mess hall and supper wouldn’t be ready yet. We would have to wait 30 minutes or something, so you have 100 or so restless kids and you are trying to corral them for 30 minutes. I would get up there and tell them a story, and, I don’t know, I would just completely make something up right there on the spot.
“It went pretty well. Some of my stories were pretty good. They had plot twists and kind of cool endings and pretty soon it was like ‘Story Time with Zane’ was kind of a regular thing at the camp.”
Six CDs, a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, enough bus rides to make even the greatest of license plate gamers exhausted thrice over and a fondness of social media later, and story time has taken on a new platform. Now, instead of a cafeteria full of campers, Williams relies on his 56,040 Facebook followers to assist in the magic.
There are countless television shows dedicated to singers, most a cover artist at best. In fact, if a handful of words were thrown at the vast majority of those contestants the best result would more-than-likely be a catchy jingle.
Williams is not one of those. Through the help of his followers, Williams solicits 10 random words, writes a tune and belts out the fruits of his labor during his brainchild, “Music Monday,” right there on social media for the entire internet to bare witness.
“To me, it is a little bit like doing a crossword puzzle. It is like a little puzzle where you have these 10 words and sometimes it’ll be immediately obvious how you can work in five or six or seven of them but then there is always two or three where you are just like, ‘Gosh, these don’t have anything to do with where this song is heading.’”
For example, followers tasked Williams with fitting vernacular into a song a couple of weeks ago.
“I had the song kind of going and just thought, ‘How in the world am I going to work vernacular in here,’” he said.
Well, he did.
During his Nov. 16 rendition of the10-word song, “Kyna Kerby,” Williams informed the Facebook community — with a slight smirk — that Kyna Kerby is gluten-free with an anarchy tattoo and a “southern vernacular” that is “charmingly spectacular,” among a host of other attributes.
And, yes, for the record all 10 words were all used: America, taco, Kyna, Chevy, anarchy, gluten, McDonalds, diesel, potato and — vernacular.
The same cannot be said for another Music Monday song, “Jayton and Jill,” which, after taking listeners on a rollercoaster of emotions ending in a twist no one could see coming, help his 2015 album, “Texas Like That,” debut at No. 8 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
“Sometimes those Music Monday things flow out pretty easily and other times they are a little more of a workout,” Williams explained. “Sometimes the song suffers a little bit with me having to work in a word. Actually, in ‘Jayton and Jill,’ I only used nine of the words in the original version because the tenth word was ‘roller skates.’ By the time I had already used the other nine words, I thought it was already a pretty good song, and I didn’t want to ruin it just to throw in roller skates.
“[…] But usually I use all 10 words and I don’t mind if a song ends up being a little goofy. It is actually easier for me to write story songs when I have those 10 random words because they usually give me a couple of names, some random objects, and places, so it’s kind of nice to have that place to start. I have never been very good at coming up with names for some reason, like names for characters. In those Music Monday songs, I just take whatever name they give me.”
Don’t call it the greatest hits
Williams, who will perform at the Rockett Café and Club Saturday, Dec. 3, has been playing in the Lone Star State for about nine years since his return from the Nashville scene in 2008. Yet, Williams is already the proud owner, and he’ll even sell you a copy to prove it, of a ‘best of’ CDs — sort of.
“We didn’t call it a greatest hits for a reason,” said Williams with a bit of chuckle. “We have all of these albums and songs, but they aren’t exactly hits because none of them ever got much exposure. Most people haven’t ever even heard of any of them. So it’s not exactly a greatest hits, but it was more like people were just starting to discover me as an artist and I had five albums for them to have to pick through, which was a little overwhelming for some people. Especially when they would come to a show, and we would do two songs off of this album and three songs off that album and four songs off of that album, so we just decided to put them all on one album and kind of do people a favor.
“It does feel like I have been doing it for a long time, in a way, but at the same time, I have tried to never let it become a grind. I have always tried to do it for fun and the love of it. So, I don’t feel like I’m burning out or anything. I feel like I’m just now starting to hit my stride. “
That stride, along with the stories that come with it, will walk through the doors of the Rockett Café and Club, technically located at 5790 FM 813 in Waxahachie, on Saturday evening and he’s bringing his friends along, too.
“I’ve played the Rocket Café two or three times and it has always been fun. I like the intimacy of it and I just like little honky-tonks like that. If anyone is into dancing, we have plenty of music to dance too,” Williams said. “They can expect to hear lots of fiddle and lots of three-part harmonies and a lot of the good old, down-home country music that you just don’t hear much anymore on the mainstream radio.”
Doors open at 6 p.m. with the show scheduled to kick off at 10 p.m. Tickets are $12 for those 21 years and up, and $20 for minors. Rockett Club is an 18-and-up establishment. Williams will also have plenty of copies of his new album, “Bringing Country Back,” on hand, as well. The album debuted at No 7 on the iTunes Country charts and No. 46 on Billboard.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith