Music

Clark Williams’s life and work is deeply rooted in music. He has performed in several contexts, including as a singer-songwriter, in punk bands, as an old-time guitarist, fiddler, and singer, and in classical vocal and string ensembles in which he sang bass and played the viola.

He is best known for performing under the pseudonym «Big Kitty,» which he began using in the year 2000. The «Big Kitty» project has taken on several forms, from solo singer-songwriter, from a folk-rock to punk to psychedelic band, to absurdist performance art which could be described as an Andy Kaufman take on Frank Sinatra.

Clark Williams has been recording music since he was a child, when he made homemade recordings on cassette tapes. Despite a complete lack of performance venues in his hometown of Maryville, Tennessee, he and his friends performed in basements and, yes, churches (despite playing subtly anti-Christian music). His first tapes were made while eating pizza Lunchables in his garage, recording onto a cassette tape songs about Chinese food (which he likes) and the pencils with ballet slipper designs which he used for percussion.

Soon after this recording Clark began learning his first instrument, the viola, in the Maryville, Tennessee public school system. He used his grandmother’s violin strung ADGC to learn, graduating to a full-size viola as he grew big enough to handle it. He took viola seriously and played in two additional ensembles separate from his high school, including the Maryville College Community Orchestra and the high school chamber orchestra. He also played in several All-State orchestras and performed Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium as a senior solo piece.

While learning the viola he also picked up the electric bass, cranking up his stereo and playing along to Black Sabbath and other metal bands. Soon after that he took up the acoustic guitar, which became an obsession. He began writing songs using the guitar immediately, and as soon as he was barely good enough, he began playing long sets of acoustic covers at the only coffee shop in Maryville, Tennessee, called The Bard. His first recording as «Big Kitty» in fact still exists — a collection of original songs and Sonic Youth-inspired guitar and tape noise which he called «Straight Up.» His lyrics from the beginning were odd, jumping from meaning to meaning and out-of-context. He wrote many songs for his different bands as well, which included Dewey and the Decimal System and the Tantrums. For a brief period he also played drums in a great band called Twist the Blade.

Also during this period, Williams participated in theater, acting in high school productions of My Fair Lady and The Secret Garden, as well as in a ragtag Knoxville theater troupe called Theater Central which specialized in a bohemian brand of slapstick humor.

After high school, he moved from Maryville to the city of Chattanooga, where he lived from 2003-2015. Here, he took up new musical interests: old time and punk rock. He played in a punk rock band called the Fixin’s, named after the glorious additions to Southern food which he, being a vegetarian, preferred over meat. The Fixin’s played at places like Anarchtica, the Chicken Ranch, Caffeine, and JJ’s Bohemia. They made a recording which has, unfortunately, been lost.

He also began playing in an old-time group called the New Binkley Brothers with Daniel Binkley and Matt Downer. This group played so much around Chattanooga that they were hard to miss. They won several old-time string band competitions and became the perennial summer entertainment at Rock City. After a couple years of the Rock City gig, Daniel Binkley moved back to his home turf of Nashville to pursue new avenues and Williams and Downer continued on as the Old Time Travelers for several more years.