Sonoma to Liverpool and back
Jon Williams is one of the most gregarious musicians I have ever met. Always a smile, always a hug and
always a kind word for everything and everybody. This man has a huge heart and is always available to pitch in and help anyone who needs a hand. Jon was part of the very first Songwriters in Sonoma at the Meadowcroft Wines tasting room last January and the first of the 21 songwriters who have performed in the room to return for a second stint. He plays tonight (August 18) along with Tony Gibson and Trent Yaconelli beginning at 7 p.m.
The lead singer and chief songwriter for Sonoma’s Ten Foot Tone rock band, Jon has had many incredible experiences in music. At age eight he took piano lessons but “couldn’t sit still long enough and drove the teacher crazy,” he recalls. But he also wrote his first song at that same age, a ditty called “Mike and the Steel Ground,” a title that still puzzles him today. He started playing guitar and throughout his junior and senior years in school, played in a variety of bands and continued to write “or try to write,” he says.
After high school Jon moved to the city. “I hitchhiked to San Francisco and lived there for 12 years doing a variety of jobs. I lived with a bunch of weirdos, but it was cool, we all did our own thing,” says Jon. “I never thought I would move back to Sonoma, but I came back for a woman, got dumped by her, but then the songs really started flowing.”
He got real serious about writing about 15 years ago. “I would rather be called a songwriter than a musician,” he says, but he does both very well. “The song is the song,” he says. His belief is that “when people start taking credit for their songwriting, they stop writing great songs because it takes away from the songs that have not yet been written.”
He performed at a lot of open mic nights doing his own songs and also auditioned for numerous bands but never got the job (as singer). He then started doing Tuesday night jams at his own home.
“Putting the jams together was the first time I did something right,” he says. “Everybody coming over to play, it was a great experience. Out of the jams came the songs and it ended up where I was the catalyst for the lyrics.”
Out of the weekly jams emerged a band called Driven. It recorded a CD before the band played their first live gig. The disc was recorded in Jon’s home over four days, fueled by a steady supply of food and beer. The band included John Murphy (Mury) who went on to play in EZ Kewl and Dustin Smart on guitar.
It was at the CD release party that Jon met his future wife Kathryn Delchiaro, who had just come back to Sonoma from Hawaii. While they had never met, after the show Jon went up to her, put his arms around her and gave her a hug, and he knew immediately she was the girl for him. The two started dating and within three months were living together. Six years later they married and have been together for a total of 12 years.
With the CD completed, a British friend named Mark Gast took the disc back to England and gave it to the owners of the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool. He also gave a copy of the disc to Pete Best, the original drummer in the Beatles. Gast told Best that there were music gigs to be had in California and that Driven would serve as the opening act. Best and his band came over, did some seven shows, and then returned to England. Driven was invited to England with the idea that Pete Best would help them secure a few gigs, particularly in Liverpool. However, upon their arrival, Best told them, “I don’t work on your level anymore,” and refused to help them.
With that news, the band was unsure of what to do. Around the corner from their hotel was the William Shakespeare Pub (also known as the Shakey). A tough, working class pub, the boys told the bartender of their woes, who told the burley bouncer, who, in turn, told the boys to “come back tomorrow and we’ll have you sorted.” When they returned the next day, there was a drum kit and amps to augment the guitars the band had brought over. They played the Shakey for several nights and the pub owner arranged for them to play the Cavern Club as well. Before long Liverpool was Driven’s home away from home.
“We played England five times,” says Jon, “and each time there were changes in the band’s line up. Drummer Luis Montes was the first change on the very first trip. He had to learn 128 songs in ten days. By the third trip, Gerard Serafini was in the band on bass and Mike Noel was playing guitar.” That line up would return to England two more times. Not knowing it at the time, Ten Foot Tone was born on that third trip overseas.
Back in Sonoma, Jon, Luis, Gerard and Mike continued to gig around town. It took them some nine months to come up with their name. “We went through so many stupid names, it wasn’t even funny,” remembers Jon. But we wrote this goofy song with the lyrics: “She’s got big feet walking down the street/She’s got colored hair and a ten foot phone.” Hence they became Ten Foot Tone. (It’s rock ‘n’ roll, what the heck).
In addition to working with the band, Jon can also be found around town busking, mainly in front of the Sebastiani theatre. “At the beginning of the year, I decided I would learn 100 cover songs to busk on the street,” says Jon. “My goal was to make $1,000, and that was met by the middle of March. The only problem was that a lot of times I would have to check my notes to make sure I was getting the lyrics right. Another bonus is when people know the song, they sometimes sing along, and they always tip well, too!”
And he plans to learn another 100 songs next year.
The Songwriters in Sonoma series continues Friday night, August 18 with Jon Williams, Tony Gibson and Trent Yaconelli. 7 p.m. $15. Meadowcroft Wines, Cornerstone Sonoma, 23574 Arnold Drive/Hwy 121. 934-4090