Craig Stahl

Music Maker of the Month

This months "Music Maker of the Month" is Chas Williams. Chas is a great guitar player and a world class dobro player. He also plays banjo, writes songs, produces, arranges, is a recording engineer, studio owner and author. Chas wrote "The Nashville Number System" the definitive book on writing chord charts for songs, Nashville style. These charts represent the type of numbering techniques that you are liable to run into in almost all of the major recording and television studios,
 clubs, showcases, rehearsal halls, and other situations where music is performed in Nashville, Tennessee. Chas, originally from Alabama, moved to Nashville in 1979 after attending Berklee College of Music. Chas has toured and recorded with great artists like Wynonna, Nanci Griffith, Maura O'Connell, David Gates of Bread and played on and produced the album Sisters Wade. Chas has performed all over the world from the Nashville honky tonks of Lower Broadway, to the world's biggest arenas and festivals. I met Chas in the mid 1980's while he was gigging in a Lower Broadway honky tonk called "The Hitching Post". Back then Lower Broad was a far cry from the nice, safe, tourist attraction it is today. Back then you had to step over the winos passed out on the sidewalks, and hope your car was still there at 4am when you left the club.
                                            Lower Broadway
                             Chas and I once recorded an album by the janitor
                                      at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge
Chas also played at the Sunday night Songwriters Night at The Hall of Fame Motor Lodge on Music Row. Normally these writer's nights are quiet, low key affairs where songwriters perform their songs alone on stage with their acoustic guitar as the only accompaniment. The music was a folky,coffee house type vibe, where if you got too noisy or rowdy you weressssshusssed by the staff. No fun allowed! Chas' writers nights were totally different. They had a full band onstage to back up the writers songs. There were guitars, fiddles, pedal steel, keys, Chas on guitar and dobro, and a guy that played bass and drums at the same time...and was good at it! The writers would come in and play their newest songs for a packed, rowdy, good time crowd. The band having never heard the songs before used chord charts of the songs written in the Nashville number system. Chas would help the songwriters chart their songs and would hold seminars for the writers to teach them to chart their own songs. This led to Chas writing the book, "The Nashville Number System".

The book explained the process of creating numbered chord charts for studio sessions, T.V. shows, and live performances. The introduction of the book explains it further:
In the late 1950's, Neil Matthews devised a musical number system for
"The Jordanaires" to use in the recording studio. Charley McCoy and fellow studio musicians began adapting Matthews' number system
 into chord charts.

is a method of transcribing music so that a song can be understood and performed. Nashville chord charts substitute numbers for the chord letter symbols found in traditional music notation.Rhythmic and dynamic notations, as well as chord voicing symbols from formal music are used in conjunction with symbols developed uniquely by Nashville musicians.


                                            Example of Number Chart
Since the middle ages, musicians have substituted Roman numerals for chord letters. However, around 1957, Neal Matthews, a member of the Jordanaires, originated the idea of substituting regular numbers for notes. Neal said he was familiar with the system of shape notes used by gospel quartets in the 30’s and 40’s, which used a different shape for each note of the major scale. Working several recording sessions a day forced Neal to devise a method of writing vocal parts so that the Jordanaires wouldn’t have to commit tremendous amounts of material to memory.  He began writing vocal charts substituting numbers for the shape notes and developed his own system of writing music with numbers.

In the early 60’s Charlie McCoy noticed the unique approach that Neal and the Jordanaires used to map out a song on paper. So, Charlie applied Neal’s number system to chords and the rhythm section. Charlie was doing a lot of sessions with Wayne Moss, David Briggs, Harold Bradley, Bob Moore, Pete Wade, Ray Edenton and Grady Martin. The idea of substituting numbers for chord letters quickly spread among the other session players in Nashville. Musicians used the number system to chart out an entire song on one piece of paper while hearing a demo of the tune for the first time. This innovative number system has become the standard method of music notation in Nashville". I know for you non musician types, this sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, but this was and is a really big deal. If you play music in Nashville, you use the number system everyday. As a recording engineer I had to learn to read them or I would be lost in a studio session.

Chas' book is the standard for writing number charts. It is
used as a textbook and required text at many colleges
including, Berklee School of Music, Middle Tennessee State University, Belmont University, and MediaTech Institute in Austin, Texas

                         Maura O'Connell

Chas has toured world wide with some fabulous artists. He played for a year and a half with Irish songstress Maura O'Connell and then started a three year stint with Wynonna Judd after The Judds broke up. After Wynonna, Chas played guitar for David Gates, lead vocalist for the band "Bread". In 1999 Chas joined Texas folksinger songwriter Nanci Griffith's Blue Moon Orchestra. While Nanci is known in music circles in the USA, she is a mega star in Europe. She sells out the largest venues throughout the world. Chas can be heard on Nanci's excellent album from 2001,
"Clock Without Hands" and 2002 live album and DVD
"Winter Marquee" Chas stayed with the Blue Moon Orchestra for three and a half years. Chas produced as well as played guitar and dobro on Nashville artists "Sisters Wade" self titled release, as well as playing dobro on their latest release "Walls of Time".


20 Questions with Chas Williams:

1. Name /
Place of Residence / Family

Chas Williams Brentwood Tn

Wife: Kathleen

Daughter: Claire

Son: Charlie


Touring Musician, Studio Owner/Producer/Engineer, Author & Publisher: The Nashville Number System

3. Current Gig / How Long?

 For the last few years, I have been working in my studio.  I  have recorded and/or produced and played on cd projects by Sally Barris, Ben   Bedford, Roger Day, Cris Talley, Billy Terry and myself.

The song, "Yaks", written by Roger Day and mixed at my studio stayed at no.1 on XMKids radio for several weeks. Sally Barris, whose album is coming out this month, has had songs cut by Martina McBride and Tricia Yearwood.

4. Who else have you worked for?

 Some other good  times I've had in this business were a year and a half playing dobro and guitar with Maura O'Connell.

I then played guitar and slide guitar on the road for 3 years with Wynonna Judd. This was her first band after The Judds broke up.

In '97, I played guitar as a sideman with The Buffalo Club, then joined Blue Miller, playing in a group that was mostly Gibson-Miller Band alumni. I played lap slide guitar and Blue played all the 6 string. We were sponsored by R.J. Reynolds and played Nascar races and other events.

In '98, I toured the US, Australia and New Zealand for 1 1/2 years as guitarist with David Gates of Bread.

In June of '99, I became a member of Nanci Griffith's Blue Moon Orchestra and played with her for 3 1/2 years. I played on Nanci’s 2001 record, “Clock Without Hands” and 2002 live cd and dvd,”Winter Marquee”.

I co-produced and played dobro and guitar on the cd, “Sisters Wade” and played dobro on their 2005 record,”Walls Of Time.”

 5. Instruments played


 Guitar, slide guitar, dobro, banjo.




6. Do you write songs?


 I write guitar and slide guitar instrumentals. I've recorded 3 cds of my original tunes. These
are available on my website as well as The Nashville Number System book.

                                                   Onstage with Nanci Griffith

 7. Place of  Birth


 Birmingham, Alabama



 8. Where did you grow up?





 9. Who were your musical influences growing up?

Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton and The Grateful Dead. 

8. Who / What was the most memorable live musical performance you experienced?

My first gig with Nanci Griffith was in my hometown with no rehearsal.
I got called only a few days before and had to write charts and
practice as much as possible by myself. It was a pretty scary first
 few songs, but was huge fun after the show got going.

 My first gig with Wynonna was exciting because the Judds had broken up and Wynonna was very apprehensive about going out on her own. There was a lot of excitement around that first gig.


 Another memorable Wynonna show a performance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Jay seemed to be so moved by the performance, that after the song, he rushed over and tried to pick Wynonna up. They both fell to the floor in a pile. Wynonna left it in the show even when they gave her the option to delete the mishap when the show aired later. It was a great laugh.

                   Wynonna Band & Crew 1991

                           Chas pointing out a "1511" intro to Andrew Jackman,
                                    conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra
                                                    at Royal Albert Hall 

We also played with Nanci at the Royal Albert Hall in London a couple of times. Once was with the London Symphony Orchestra. The conductor and the band had to wear hard hats at sound check while the riggers were working on lights. That is a fantastic sounding concert hall and I'm lucky to have played there.

  9. Best live performance / concert you have attended? What made it special?



I really was blown away by Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenburg and Edgar Meyer backing up Maura O'Connell at the Station Inn. That was in the late '80's.

                      Jimmy Page 1971                                                    

 I also loved seeing Led Zeppelin in the early '70's when Jimmy Page did his delay trick with the violin bow. He hit the strings with the bow and timed with the delay, pointed the bow at the audience and a huge guitar chord blasted out of the house.

It was like a bomb came out of that bow



10. What music is in your CD player or I-Pod right now?


I've been liking Ray LaMontagne_Trouble and John Mayer_Continuum. I always keep The Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore nearby.

                                                Onstage with Sisters Wade

11.  What advice can you give to someone who is trying to break into show business.


I guess it's easy to break into show business, but staying there for any length of time to have a career, you have to be really diverse.

                           Great Album by Chas

 12. What factors and strengths have made you so successful at your craft/job?



I think maybe
a lot of my success has been the result of working at several things well. It seems like when one area slows down, another picks up. For example, electric guitar gigs might be sparse, but then along come a bunch of dobro gigs.
Or, all gigs may be down and all of a sudden, book orders really pick up or a new project comes in to the studio. Mainly, I rely on the fact that God has it worked out and it's not so much up to me.

13. What has been your favorite job
in show business?

Most of the time, each job makes you appreciate the next one. However, more than ever, I've been enjoying recording and playing on great songs in my own studio.

14.What do you like to do when not working with music?



I enjoy hanging out with my family. They are very cool and funny people. 

        Chas needs a new hobby!

I do have a couple of
hobbies that I get casually fanatical about. Cycling is one.
I have a fast road bike and really like riding with groups
of other riders. I've tried
racing a couple of times,
but after the fact, realize
how often those guys crash. Getting hurt doing a hobby
 may not be the thing to do
for a person who tries to
make a living playing guitar.
I still enjoy fast group rides, though. It really bleeds off
any stress that tends to build
up in this business.



Bonus Question: Do you own any real estate?

I own my home, but I'll give 
you a call if I need to sell it.

 Editor Note: Good Answer!

Chas is one of the nicest people I have ever worked with in all my years in show business, a true gentleman.He is also one of the most talented and creative.
It is always fun to work with Chas in the studio. If your project needs killer guitar or dobro give him a call.
He also can produce a
killer album for all you singers out there. For
all you dobro and music fans I highly recommend any of his solo albums. While mostly instrumentals you can hear Chas' talk/sing on his version of the Johnny Cash hit "Ring of Fire".

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