Jason D. Williams returns home to rock Hilton Head Island

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comAugust 29, 2012 


  • Jason D. Williams plays 9 p.m. Sept. 1 at Remy's Bar and Grill on Hilton Head Island. Tickets are $20 presale, $25 day of show.

    Details: 843-842-3800

Prepare yourself: Jason D. Williams is coming home.

The raucous piano man returns to Hilton Head Island to play Remy's Bar and Grill on Sept. 1, a concert that will be a throwback to a time when his lively shows packed island hotspots.

He plays an unhinged type of rockabilly in which the music is just part of the show. He doesn't so much play the piano as he beats the notes out of it. He bangs the keys with his elbows, feet ... back end. He does handstands, whips the mic around, and once threw a baby grand off-stage and lit it on fire. With a mess of curly blonde hair and Southern accent, he only half-jokingly says he's the illegitimate child of Jerry Lee Lewis

It's been years since Williams played the island. And he's more than ready to come back.

"I've always felt Hilton Head was like a second home," he said. "It feels good to come home."

Williams grew up in El Dorado, Ark., the adopted son of Baptist missionaries. He first started playing piano at age 3. He played in churches, but inspiration came from boogie woogie piano players like Moon Mulligan, who'd light up the stage on the TV show "Hee Haw."

He moved to Memphis, Tenn., and went on to record with RCA and Sun Records. He's appeared on MTV, VH1 and schmoozed on air with the likes of Pat Sajak, Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford.

Williams first came to the island in the early 1980s. A Memphis businessman who owned property in Harbour Town encouraged him to play The Quarterdeck. The island was a little sleepier back then, but his shows brought vibrant crowds, he remembers.

"It felt raw, pure," he said. "I fell in love with it."

Soon, he was coming back routinely to play The Quarterdeck and the now-defunct Old Post Office. The spaces were small and the crowds tight, giving that one-with-the-audience feeling Williams loved.

In 1991, he was part of a group that opened Jason D's on the island, a restaurant and lounge where Williams played frequently along with other musicians. However, it only lasted about a year. The 350-seat restaurant didn't cater to his mien, according to an Island Packet article at the time. "His energetic style was diluted in that cavernous showroom, where he played far removed from a rather sedate audience," it read.

Williams still continued to swing by while touring nationally with his backing band The Kingpins. Nowadays, he mostly plays originals on stage. His last album, "Killer Instinct," recorded with noted Americana artist Todd Snider in 2010, received some critical acclaim, including a three-and-a-half star review from Rolling Stone.

Williams estimates he hasn't been back to Hilton Head in five or six years. But he's still going strong, playing about 160 shows a year.

He keeps in shape by running five miles a day. The energy on stage these days is more directed, he said. Before, it was "like an M80 going off. Now it's like a rocket."

Either way, expect a big bang.

Related content:

Rockin' Jason D. Williams

Killer Instincts

Remy's Bar and Grill

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