Birth Date: August 24, 1938 / Age: 77
Birth Place: Abilene, Texas, USA
Also Credited as: Mason D. Williams
Biography: Mason Williams (b. August 24, 1938 in Abilene, Texas) is a guitarist and composer.
Williams wrote for the Smothers Brothers show and also is a virtuoso classical guitarist. He is well known for, among others things, his popular guitar instrumental "Classical Gas" and is also an eclectic poet and lyricist.
Mason Williams emerged in the late 1960's as a strong force in television and music circles. In 1968 he won two Grammy awards for his unique composition for guitar, "Classical Gas." That same year he also won an Emmy award for his work as a comedy writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Mason is perhaps most widely known as a composer and recording artist. He has recorded more than dozen albums, five on the Warner Bros. label (The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, The Mason Williams Ear Show, Music, Handmade, and Sharepickers). "Classical Gas" was released as a single from The Mason Williams Phonograph Record in 1968. "Classical" Gas won three Grammys that year for: "Best Instrumental (theme) Composition," "Best Instrumental (theme) Performance," and "Best Instrumental Orchestra Arrangement." (Mike Post, arranger.)
In 1987, Mason teamed up with Mannheim Steamroller of Fresh Aire fame, to release a new album on the American Gramaphone label. The Album, titled "CLASSICAL GAS", includes a remake of his 1968 Grammy award winning song. Another cut from this album, "Country Idyll", was a 1988 nominee for a Grammy in the Country Music category for "Best Instrumental Performance by a Soloist, Group or Orchestra." This album went Gold in 1991, and is now approaching platinum.
Most recently Mason has released (on the Real Music label) an acoustic instrumental album of Christmas/Holiday music album titled "A Gift of Song", featuring arrangements of traditional carols and original compositions. In 1992 the Vanguard label released "Music 1968-1971", a compilation of cuts from his five Warner Bros. albums recorded in the late 60s, early 70s.
As a comedy writer, Mason has written for more than 150 hours of network television programming. Writing both music and comedy, Mason was a prime creative force for CBS' controversial Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. His extensive repertoire in folk music gave him the background for many of Tom and Dick's comedy routines, and with co-writer Nancy Ames, he also composed the shows' musical theme. He also created and perpetuated the 1968 Pat Paulsen for President campaign, the most elaborate political satire in recent history. These shows are currently being rerun on the E! Entertainment cable channel.
Other major television personalities he has written for include: Steve Martin, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, Dinah Shore, Roger Miller and Petula Clark. In 1980 Mason was head writer for NBC's Saturday Night Live. In 1988 Mason received his third Emmy nomination as a comedy writer for his work on THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS 20TH REUNION SPECIAL (CBS).
Mason has also written and produced over a dozen books of prose, poetry, and music including THE MASON WILLIAMS READING MATTER and FLAVORS (Doubleday) and THE MASON WILLIAMS FCC RAPPORT (Liverite). A new 144 page music book, Classical Gas: The Music of Mason Williams, has just been published by CPP Belwin. It contains (12) solo guitar and (6) duet original compositions by Mason.
As a conceptual artist, in the late 1960's Mason produced a work titled "Bus", a life-sized (11' x 37'), photographic poster of a Greyhound Bus that is in the permanent collection of New York City's Museum of Modern Art. He is also the creator of the world's largest sunflower. Originally intended as a short film, the sunflower concept was conceived as a slow-motion aerial ballet in which an old biplane skywrites ("draws"), the stem and leaves of a sunflower in the sky beneath the sun, the sun thereby becoming the blossom of the flower.
In the last few years Mason has concentrated on a variety of programs for his concert appearances. His CONCERT FOR BLUEGRASS BAND AND ORCHESTRA, also titled SYMPHONIC BLUEGRASS, has been performed with over 40 symphonies including such major orchestras as Denver, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Louisville and Edmonton.
In line with a nationwide growing awareness of the importance of saving our rivers from unnecessary hydroelectric exploitation, and a concerted effort to help preserve what remains of America's wild, free-flowing streams, Mason has created "OF TIME AND RIVERS FLOWING", a program consisting entirely of songs and music pertaining to water and rivers. A chronological "river" of music and time, it is a reflection of "the river" metaphorically flowing through history. Spanning over 300 years, "OF TIME AND RIVERS FLOWING" is a tour de force of arrangement and performance, encompassing the realms of classical, folk, minstrel, gospel, jazz, country, pop, and contemporary rock. Mason has performed the program for benefits, conferences, and in concert. A recent event of note was the 25th anniversary celebration of American Rivers in Washington, D.C., where Vice President Al Gore was the principle speaker.
Mason has released an album of the same title on his own SKOOKUM label containing 14 of the approximately 35 songs performed in the concert. In 1993 the title cut from this album was used as the sound track for a ninety second PSA spot created by The American Rivers Council on the home video release of Robert Redford's film "A River Runs Through It." The same spot will also be on the 1995 home video release of "The River Wild" filmed in Oregon.
In conjunction with the release of his "A Gift of Song" Christmas CD in 1992, Mason has added a Holiday Concert Program to his repertoire featuring music from the album as well as other traditional music of the season. In 1994, he played six sold-out concerts with the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon.
1995, '96, '97 and '98 were sprinkled with more performances of all four of Mason's concerts. A highlight of '95 was to be invited to play for Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's Inauguration. In 1996 Mason received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from his Alma Mater, Oklahoma City University.
In 1998, Broadcast Music, Inc., (BMI) the music licensing organization that tracks air play performances on radio and television, presented Mason with a Special Citation of Achievement in recognition of the great national and international popularity of Classical Gas. It has logged over three million broadcast performances to become the number one all time instrumental composition for air play in BMI's repertoire, replacing the previous #1 tune, The Theme From Moulin Rouge, by Michel Legrande, released in 1953.
Highlights of 1999: Mason played again for the Governor of Oregon's 2nd Inauguration. February '99 Mason's "Bus" art piece was included in the Norton Simon Museum exhibition "Radical Past", in Pasadena CA. In the spring he played his "Of Time & Rivers Flowing" concert with the Oregon Children's Choral Festival, a 2 day event involving 3,000 elementary school children singing water and rivers songs with Mason and his band. Mason received the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oregon in honor of his Contribution to Oregon's Arts.
In the Fall of '99 he and the Bluegrass Band played for Byron Berline's Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie, OK with the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra. An outdoor event that, at 47°, gave a new meaning to term "Blue"grass.
February 2000 Mason participated in the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen Colorado. The Festival's 6th annual show honored "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and its unique contribution to television. Mason performed a concert with Tom and Dick, and again on a late night show with Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Marc Shaiman and lots of new comers to the world of comedy.
He has also written music for soundtracks of movies including: The Story of Us, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Dish, The Heidi Chronicles, and Heartbreakers. His compositions have been the backdrop for The Sopranos as well.
In 2003, he released an EP entitled, "Music for the Epicurean Harkener" and was again nominated for a grammy in 2004 for best instrumental album. He continues to write and record and is working on a new album.