The story that I am about to share with you is the story of Tess Williams. It isn’t the complete story but a condensed version for this cd packet. It is my attempt to try to introduce and outline the life of an amazing soulful singer and performer who should have been a huge star. This is not an easy task to but a heartfelt one. Tess Williams is my mom. We lost her this year to diabetes at the very young age of seventy-three.
The year was 1949. The war had been over for a couple of years and the country was trying to get back to a post-war normal. Army Private First Class James G. Williams (a “Yankee” from Southern Illinois, and a recent re-enlistee) had just been transferred from Camp Breckenridge, Ky. to Fort Campbell Ky.
A paratrooper, (6′ 5 1/2″ and skinny as a rail) He and his buddies headed into Nashville, Tn. to check out the bars & women. They walked into the “Paradise Club” in Bordeaux on the outskirts of Nashville on old Clarksville Hwy 41. On stage, in that smoke-filled club fronting a small combo was a captivating and engaging bluesy young white woman singing “Walkin Blues” and she was tearing it up! PFC Williams soon found out that her name was “Tess!” She was from East Nashville and performed at the “Paradise” on a regular basis. On that fateful night, my parents Jim & Tess Williams met. They’re lives would change from that night forward and would effect many more lives for many years to come.
Mary Odessa Knott was born dirt poor in Lincoln County Tn. Her father was of German descent and her mother was a local. After dating for two years, in 1951 Dad & Mom decided to get married. My sister Paula (the first born) arrived at Fort Campbell September, 11 1952. Soon after, my dad got orders to ship-out overseas. He was being sent to Linz, Austria. He had to go over with his unit ahead of wives & dependants. Somehow, my mom’s mother had talked mom into not going over seas. She had convinced her that it was too dangerous a place to take a child…
She started singing jazz in the clubs in East Nashville and basically is a white lady with a soulful black voice. She performed all across the globe including Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as her husband was in the military. Staying home with her children prevented her from going big time, though listen to this CD and youll instantly know she made it anyway. All the songs are standard cover tunes. A touch of spunk and sass dominate the classic Is You Is or Is You Aint My Baby. Alabama Jubilee turns it up a notch, Sunny Side of the Street makes you tap your foot and whistle, though she breaks it all down on Willie Nelsons Funny How Time Slips Away. Totally Tess is totally classy! Its quality music sung by and outstanding singer. Steve Williams, her son, produced the disc and wrote an incredible biographical account of his mother and family. The story inside the disc jacket enriches the music even more.
— Barry Barnes- Editor Nashville Now and Then
Now for some real jazz that will take you back in time. Tess Williams should have been a big star but she had one problem, she was white and her vocals sounded too black for the times. This nostalgic CD is a tribute to a great artist who recorded the album at age 73 just before she passed on. Produced by her son Steve Williams for independents W.T.F. Records, the album is a real hoot. Great song, great musicians, and an incredible artist. Youre gonna love it!
— Brad Fisher- Nashville Music Guide
It surprises some folks that Nashville has a vibrant jazz scene. The late Tess Williams definitely deserves a DisCovery Award. This was a labor of love. Steve Williams’ mother sang with jazz bands when he was a boy, but never recorded. So he brought her to Nashville, surrounded her with Reggie Young, Spady Brannon, Leon Russell, Reese Winans, The Memphis Horns, Mike Joyce, Ilya Toshinski, Billy Cox, and other music city noteables. Sadly, she died just before completing Totally Tess. But now Steve and the rest of us have her remarkable voice to enjoy forever. These are deep, chesty, sassy, blues-mama, personality-packed and more than a little “black” vocal performances. She sounds all of her 73 years on this classic Willie Nelson ballad, But shes so darn spunky that its cooler than the breeze. She swings smartly on “angry,” ” sunny side of the street,” “why don’t you do right” and others here. She’s also up to the challenge of covering the great Dinah Washington on the bonus tracks ” what a difference a day made” and “baby youve got what it takes.” Another highlight is Steve’s CD booklet essay telling his mom’s remarkable story.
— Review from Music Row Magazine: 5/08/2008 “DISClaimer” by Robert K. Oerman