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Texas Guitar Legend Bert Wills   

By Zach Tate

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Bert Wills has referred to himself  in song as a rambler on a lonesome highway, an outsider looking in, a  prisoner and many other things of rich metaphorical value. Despite  critical acclaim as one of the best blues guitarists in Texas, Wills,  like most introspective people, is still working it all out.

“Isn’t being a musician a job?” Wills asked. “It’s all I’ve ever done.”

Wills wasn’t exactly encouraged to go into the music business. His  father, Bert Wills Sr., who died last year, was an auto mechanic for  Cadillac and in his career had taken care of legendary country singer  Hank Williams Sr.’s seven Caddys. Williams was known to be a heavy  drinker and drug user. Bert Wills Sr. had a general disapproval of  musicians.

Despite his best efforts to avoid the music business, destiny had its  way with Wills. He has worked his way through life singing songs and  playing his guitar. Two attempts at “real” jobs both ended after one  week.

“I worked at a gas station, but then the guy who owned the place  found out I played guitar and fired me so I could go work in his bar  playing guitar,” Wills said.

Bert Wills was born in Ashland, Ky., in 1953. In 1957, his family  moved to Galveston. The family moved several more times throughout the  Gulf Coast area — Texas City, Bay City, League City and Kemah — with  Wills eventually settling in Galveston on his own in the late 1960s.  While he has lived in many places around the United States for various  lengths of time, Wills has always gravitated back to Galveston, where  many of his closest friends reside, he said. These days, Wills spends  the majority of his time in Kentucky caring for his mother, Margaret,  but in May performed several shows in Galveston and Houston.

Wills began playing the guitar professionally at age 11. He used his  first guitar, a “homemade” instrument, to play in bars along the  waterfront from Kemah to Galveston. The guitar, which he still has, was  made by a Bacliff man, David Alexander, Wills said.

Wills formed his first band, The Undertakers (aka The Shadows) with  another well-known Gulf Coast musician, Benny Brasket, who was 12 years  old at the time. Brasket’s father, Benny Brasket Sr., owned a bar in  Galveston and played drums and let the boys use some of his equipment  when he wasn’t performing.

The Shadows performed at The Bamboo Hut and The Cave as well as at  some high school and teen dances, playing covers of popular songs at the  time by The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and Manfred Mann.

“Many old blues tunes, just played louder,” Wills said.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Wills played many solo gigs as well as  with groups he either formed or was a consistent member of, including  Bert Wills and The Cryin’ Shames and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member  Johnnie Johnson’s band, which occasionally included Keith Richards from  The Rolling Stones. Wills also played with country legend Porter Wagoner  and his group.

The  album “4GDB” (4 Guitars, Drums and Bass) is the brainchild of Executive  Producer Dan Cook and is a mostly instrumental showcase of four  renowned Texas blues guitarists recorded in a live setting.

Wills released records under his own name beginning with “Mr.  Politician” in 1994. The album, followed by “Special Session” and “Tell  Me Why,” all garnered good reviews and went on to help further establish  Wills and his band as a viable blues outfit on the world circuit. He  and his band toured around the United States and in Europe up until the  late 2000s, when health issues slowed Wills’ schedule.

Although he’s best known for his blues music, Wills is a proficient  country music writer as well, said Grammy-nominated Houston music  producer and engineer Andy Bradley, who has recorded several albums with  Wills.

“Bert is a Texas guitar legend — among the best blues guitar players  ever to come out of Texas, but he is equally skilled in country music as  both a player and writer,” Bradley said.

Wills this year released the folk and country inspired “Lonesome  Highway” album and was part of a double album blues vinyl project “4GDB”  released last year that featured three other Texas guitar legends —  Alan Haynes, John Inmon and Derek O’Brien, along with Glenn Fukunaga on  bass and Paul Pearcy on drums. Houstonian Dan Cook was executive  producer on the “4GDB” project, which is a tribute to some of Texas’  best players.

The album was intended to be a completely instrumental blues album.  But vocals worked their way in to some songs, with the final product  essentially being an 11-song blues jam with all the players recording  simultaneously in a live setting. The five-day recording session was  filmed and a documentary is in the editing process.

“These guys are some of the best blues players Texas has ever  produced,” Cook said. “I wanted to capture these guys while they’re  still here.”

Written by Zach Tate for  the Galveston County Daily News

Coast Magazine -  June 25, 2016

Photo by Zach Tate