By Mark Emanatian
I got out of my car in the parking lot of the TC Club on Swan Street in the Arbor Hill section of Albany in 1991. A man came up to me and said, “Are you Mark?” And I said, “You must be Ernie.” We shook hands and went inside, and I played guitar with him for the first time in the Ernie Williams Blues Band. It was a six-piece band, and I was filling in without rehearsal. I watched his hands to get the keys of the tunes. We played from 10pm til 4am. At the end of the night when he was paying me my $50, he asked if I would play with him regular.
This memory and a thousand more are flooding back to me now as I think about the passing of Ernie Williams. I spent many years riding around the big world with him, making music, making people happy, making some money and playing the blues. I remember him and Rocky and Joe and me laughing til tears rolled down our cheeks. I remember triumphs and tragedies, hopes and dreams, goals and plans. We went through good times and hard times. We played in New York City, Hollywood, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore. We also played Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Nassau, Saratoga, Saranac, Sacandaga, Oneonta and Cooperstown. Ernie played everywhere he could, anytime, for anyone.
He came from a music tradition where music was made on the back porch and in the church. He worked hard at his craft. He loved people, and people loved him. He loved kids and always had time for them. And he had that smile. He was a good neighbor in the truest sense of the word. He did many, many charity concerts for anyone that asked from individuals to food banks and pantries, from soup kitchens to the AIDS Council. He played at dozens of schools in five states, bringing blues to the schools and African American history to thousands of students.
He was real. We went through a lot together. Over the years, we went our separate ways, as bands often do, but I have nothing but love in my heart for him and his family. My thoughts go out to his wife Kathy. The Capital District was lucky to have him. And for me, I have to say I have feared this day for years, and now it’s here.
Ernie, so long, God bless…
Ernie Williams obituary and 87th birthday concert video
David Malachowski Remembers Ernie Williams
Mike Kelley Remembers Ernie Williams
Flashback Foto: The Ernie Williams Band @ Joe Bruno Stadium, 8/23/11
Don Wilcock Remembers Ernie Williams