Carrying on Bill Monroe Tradition
By: Shelby C. Berry
Whatever their ages, bluegrass fans know something about Bill Monroe and his “Father of Bluegrass” legacy. And many bluegrass musicians aspire to reach his level of talent. But few rise to the challenge.
Then along comes Brayden Williamson.
In only a few years, Brayden has gone from young boy playing folk tunes to bluegrass artist with a new album, three #1 songs, and the man who managed our Father of Bluegrass.
What a journey!
From Logan County, West Virginia, Brayden recently celebrated his seventeenth birthday. His hometown’s rich musical history includes his grandfather, Ervin Williamson of the Williamson Brothers. Brayden took an interest in bluegrass at age eight. A few years later, in his elementary music class, Brayden learned to pick on a Stagg acoustic guitar, eventually finding his home on the Martin D35 his parents later gave him.
His primary goal is to preserve traditional bluegrass sounds and styles. His original, Watching the Grass Grow, talks about the youth of bluegrass growing in the music and how the pioneers inspire them to do great things with their music to inspire others. The song went #1, and two more songs on the album quickly followed. This success drew the attention of Bill Monroe’s producer, Vic Gabany of Nashville, Tennessee, who is now helping to move Brayden’s career forward in ways Brayden never imagined.
The Bluegrass Standard: You were born into a musical family, specifically with your grandad Ervin of The Williamson Brothers. Did that play a part in your early life?
Brayden Williamson: Most definitely! My Papaw was a recording artist in the 1920s, and he had seven records that he released. His musical background is why I started playing the guitar. Neither of my parents play, so I guess it skipped a generation! PBS did a documentary called American Epic where my Papaw was featured, and that’s how I learned a lot about him. I learned a lot by playing his style of the guitar and eventually ventured into a more modern style of playing bluegrass music.
BGS: What is your favorite part of playing bluegrass?
BW: The relationships with fellow musicians, meeting people. It’s like a family!
BGS: What inspires your sound and how to find your voice among musicians?
BW: I started listening to Larry Sparks when I was little. We stay in touch, and I used to listen to his guitar and model myself after his style of playing. I’ve taken a big inspiration from Larry’s style of picking, but I try to make sure to keep my sound original when I can. As for singing, I try to sing as naturally as possible, the way I would talk with my own accent.
BGS: After years of performing, what has been the most rewarding part?
BW: Writing songs and learning the history behind the music. And of course, working with Vic Gabany, Bill Monroe’s’ producer. He heard the first song I ever wrote, and he drove to see me. He told me that he wanted to be my producer and manager right then.
BGS: What is your goal for your music at this point?
BW: I want to preserve the traditional style of bluegrass. That’s my main goal. I want to write my own music and, with that, preserve the style given to us by Bill Monroe.
BGS: What is your favorite part about Songs of a Young Man and what does this album tell the world about you?
BW: All the songs I wrote myself, even the instrumentals. I hope that with those songs that listeners can get a taste of how I play the guitar. I hope people can see that someone at my age of only 17 has the understanding and desire to preserve the music.
BGS: What inspired you to start writing?
BW: I’ve heard so many people that sing covers of songs already written. When I sing, I want someone to hear something they’ve never heard before in terms of lyrics, while keeping with tradition.
BGS: Multiple songs from this album have hit #1. What does this mean to you? How did you react when you found out they hit #1?
BW: Honestly, that was so humbling and such a blessing. All good things come from God. At only 17, I was so shocked. I want to thank everyone for requesting the song! It’s the people that enjoy the music that make it happen. My parents and I ran in the same room and hugged each other when we heard, and we cried a bit.
BGS: Last August, you debuted an original song on stage with Larry Sparks at the Mountaineer Opry House. What did this mean to you?
BW: I’m getting cold chills just thinking about it! Larry Sparks’ manager and I are good friends through music. She called and said Larry wanted me to sing one of my songs with him. It meant so much. It’s something I’ll never forget. Larry Sparks having me on his mind and wanting me to sing with him meant so much.
BGS: What should a fan expect when attending your show?
BW: Well… a lot of energy! I like to move around and do shoulder shrugs. There’s a lot of fun and jokes. I make sure to always share my testimony while giving them some fun too!
BGS: Tell us about your endorsement with Black Diamond Strings.
BW: I was on my YouTube channel one day, and I did a song called Black Diamond Strings. I sent it to them by chance. They sent me a long email afterward and said they loved my style of playing and wanted to set me up as an endorsed artist. I became their youngest artist to endorse! It really meant a lot. Their strings really are great too!
BGS: Lastly, what is your ultimate dream for your bluegrass career?
BW: I’ve already accomplished half of my dreams, honestly. I’ve dreamed of recording a song in Nashville, and soon, I am going to get to record a song that Bill Monroe and my manager wrote together. Charley Pride was supposed to record it originally with Bill on Bill Monroe and Friends. Then 10 years later, George Jones was supposed to record with him, but Bill had a stroke. Now, I’m getting the chance to record this very song. To be able to have that piece of history and have my name tied to it is incredible. Vic said he was led to give the song to me, and it was such an honor.