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Williams’ public performing career began in California in the late 1950s and continued regularly for almost 40 years, earning a reputation as a uniquely talented, raw and edgy “high lonesome” tenor singer and mandolin player who inspired countless musicians on the West Coast of the United States and well beyond.
Born in Newton County, Arkansas in 1930, Williams began playing music with his family at an early age. He moved to California in 1952 with the Marine Corps and continued to play music, first with his younger brother John Jr., then in a much celebrated partnership with Ray Park beginning in 1959, and lastly beginning in 1974 with his own “Vern Williams Band”. Versions of these groups also backed up country-bluegrass legend Rose Maddox on two studio recordings and numerous personal appearances.
Vern’s impact on bluegrass music, especially in California, cannot be overstated. He made several seminal bluegrass recordings, was recognized by the State of California by official acknowledgement and tribute in 1987 and by official commendation in 2001, received the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Award of Merit, and was the first to be awarded an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the California Bluegrass Association. His song arrangements continue to be used by numerous bluegrass artists.
A videography about Vern was produced in 2004 and can be viewed at the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM) in Owensboro, Kentucky. His recordings are widely available. Vern's last performance was as a guest on Open Road’s Lucky Drive, recorded in 2005.