J.W. Williams


After five decades in the music industry, veteran industry exec J.W. Williams has relocated from Nashville to Madison, a move he says is a “natural fit” because of the state’s significance in everything from the Blues to country music. 

Williams is widely known for his work with legendary band ZZ Top, and country music superstars Clint Black and Trace Adkins. He’s currently working with Michael McDonald, who was a member of The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan amongst others.

Growing up in Tyler, Texas, in a household that encouraged a wealth of musical styles, Williams knew at a young age that music was his passion, and by the time he was beginning college at Texas Tech, he also knew that relying on his own skills as a singer or player would not be his best career bet – but he wasn’t deterred in the least. 

Williams literally looked at the whole experience of musical performances -- specifically live concerts -- in a totally different way than most folks, and it wasn’t long before he came to realize that working on the production and management side of the business would be his ticket to a job in the industry. More than 40 years later, he still loves his job.  

“The inner workings of a live show fascinated me from the first time I started attending rock concerts in the ‘70s,” Williams said. “I’d watch the box office and see the lines of people waiting to get in and wondered about how that process could go faster. I would observe the stage crews setting up, count the lighting instruments and marvel at the speaker system. I’d often try to sneak around to the back of the venue to see the loading docks and count how many trucks and busses it took to put this on. I just wanted to be a part of the show. The whole process was and is fascinating to me.

“From the first lyrics to the demo to the recording session to the promotion of the record, then to hearing the song on the radio, producing the tour to support the record through the box office and the merchandise tables, it’s all related and every part is essential. Also, my dad was a CPA, so the business side of this came easy for me.”

When he left college, Williams went straight to work at Lone Wolf Management in Houston, stepping into what would become a lifetime career of talent management and production for more than four decades.  

“Working in this all-encompassing music industry is the only job I’ve ever had,” he said. 

The most important lesson he has nurtured over the years of working with and observing “some of the giants of the music industry,” is the importance of the bond between the artist and his or her manager. 

“The relationship between an artist and their manager is one of the most important in their careers,” Williams said. “A manager must completely understand the desires and goals of the artists, design a plan to get them there and even be able to see beyond those goals.” 

After decades of building his business and representing stars like ZZ Top, Clint Black, Trace Adkins and now, Michael McDonald, Williams has moved his business and his residency from Brentwood, Tenn. (10 miles from Nashville) to Madison this past spring. 

Joining him was his wife, Debra, a professional hair and makeup artist who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. 

“We both had very rewarding careers there but after the pandemic hit, we both realized we could do what we do from anywhere,” he said. “Working remotely became the rule, not the exception. We also have family here, so being closer to them and the grandkids is awesome.”

The relocation couldn’t have worked out better.  

“Mississippi is a natural fit for me,” Williams said. “This state has always been a very fertile ground for talent in music and the arts, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this community.”

After working in Houston, Austin and Nashville, the move made sense for other reasons.   

During the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Williams got a firsthand glimpse of Mississippi’s commitment to its musical heritage during his tenure with ZZ Top. Through their relationship with the Hard Rock Café, he had worked to raise a substantial amount of money and awareness for the Delta Blues Museum, enabling the museum to move into its current facility in Clarksdale and expand its collection of artifacts and programs. 

“That experience opened my eyes to the possibilities offered by the Magnolia State,” he said.

After using his experience and his formidable relationships to aid in the creation of a performing arts center in Austin, Williams hopes to contribute his expertise in design, consultation and operations to develop a similar music venue locally. 

“Madison and its surrounding area really need a state-of-the-art performing arts center that will attract quality national headline entertainers and theatrical events,” he said. “I understand there are a couple in the planning stages, and I hope I can offer my experience in their design and operations.”

The need is great, he notes.  

“At one time, rock artists made the Birmingham-Jackson-Shreveport route part of their regular tour stops, but the Jackson market has been overlooked over the past several years. A new venue, a world-class performing arts center in the Madison-Ridgeland area, would change that.”

Looking back, Williams is grateful to have grown up in an atmosphere that encouraged many different genres of music, including praise and gospel, Western swing, R & B, Chicago Blues artists - most of whom were from Mississippi - and, later, the “British invasion” that imported songs by American Blues artists that would finally be played on mainstream radio. 

This exposure to such diverse musical tastes fueled his interest in sharing it with audiences who would enjoy great performances without ever realizing the planning and skills needed to produce the excitement and energy of live concerts. 

It’s close to impossible not to realize how much Williams loves his work, and his enthusiasm is contagious. 

“I think what I most enjoy is that moment after a show when the audience has let the artist know how much they love them and as they leave the stage seeing that glint of satisfaction and pride in their eye,” he said.  “Being a part of the whole process that brings them to that moment is everything. Then, my next favorite part is going to the box office and settling the show – that is, counting the money!  

“The biggest challenge these days for everyone on the artist side of the industry is how to deliver your music to the fans. Record labels have never been more challenged. Digital delivery has changed everything and it will continue to evolve.

“There is so much great music being released every day and so many incredibly talented artists, we must constantly find ways to expand their fan base and get their fans out to their shows. The live event is and always been the best way to engage the fan base.”

J.W. Williams Productions is based in Madison in the Lake Caroline area. He can be reached at (512) 415-9653; email at jwwms.prod@gmail.com.