Personalities | John Williams | The Sky’s the Limit | Guitar Heroes

Classical guitarist-composer John Christopher Williams (b. 1941) is a Grammy-Award winning Australian classical guitarist who has explored many styles beyond the classical tradition.

John’s father Leonard (Len) Williams was an accomplished guitarist who emigrated from Britain to Australia and was best known there for his jazz playing. He taught John to play guitar, and it soon became apparent that the boy was gifted. At the age of 12 he went to Italy to study under Andrés Segovia. Later, he attended the Royal College of Music in London, studying piano because the school did not have a guitar department at the time. Upon graduation, he created one and ran it for two years.

Williams has explored many different musical traditions. He was a member of the fusion group Sky. He is also a composer and arranger. He enjoyed a worldwide hit single with his recording of ‘Cavatina’ by Stanley Myers, used as the theme music to the Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter (1979). In 1973, Cleo Laine wrote lyrics and recorded the song ‘He Was Beautiful’ accompanied by Williams. A year later, it was a Top 5 UK hit single for Iris Williams (no relation).

Williams created a highly acclaimed classical-rock fusion duet with Pete Townshend of the Who for Townshend’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, which was performed at the 1979 Amnesty International benefit show ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball’. The duet was featured on the resulting album and the film version of the show. Williams’ classical-rock fusion band Sky gave the first-ever rock concert at Westminster Abbey.

Williams has appeared on over 100 albums (including compilations). He has performed and recorded nearly the entire standard guitar repertory, plus a large quantity of transcriptions, many of which he created. He was a professor of guitar at the Royal College of Music in London from 1960 to 1973. Besides film soundtracks, Williams has arranged Beatles songs and formed his own ensembles (John Williams & Friends, Attacca) to explore other music. On The Guitarist (1998) he used Turkish and Greek rhythms and harmonies to support medieval music. The Magic Box (2002) examines African music. His most recent collection, From A Bird (2008), includes Irish traditionals and music inspired by birdsongs.


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