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Will Jacobs ~ The Piano Player

July 14, 2010

In my recap of the 2010 Parker County Peach Festival in Weatherford, Texas, I mentioned Will Jacobs, The Piano Player.  I use all caps because that’s how it appears on his business card.  The card only has a phone number, which I will list at the end of this post.

When we arrived at our booth location, we parked across the street, in front of a residence.  I called out to a man standing on the front porch, just to make sure we could unload there.  In spite of the rain coming down, he walked over to the car and assured me it was perfectly fine to park there while we set up.  His neighbor, a tall stringbean in a well-worn cowboy hat with rain dripping off the brim, longneck in hand, strolled over to join the conversation.  He introduced himself as Will Jacobs, said he was going to be playing piano right there in his front yard during the festival…  and he made it pretty clear that he could play just about anything.  The next day he proved it.

Somehow we connected, almost instantly.  Can’t explain it.

I love great keyboard and piano work.  When I listen to music, I’m more likely to be listening to the keyboard riffs in the background than the lead singer.  So, on Saturday morning, once we got the paintings hung and the booth open for business, I walked across the street to watch Will warm up.  He tried to teach me a quick riff, even let me try it on the keyboard, but after two or three tries, I backed away and bowed to the master.  Trying to follow his fingers was like trying to see how a hummingbird changes directions.  When he had set up under a blue tent, he showed he was conscious of what the rest of us were doing.  He pointed his speakers to the side, away from us, so we could talk to our customers without having to shout.

What did he play?  Will Jacobs plays some of, if not THE best honkytonk piano I have ever heard… and sang with as much heart and soul as anyone.  If he reads this, he’s going to laugh at some of my comparisons, not because he disagrees, but because he probably would have made different comparisons.  With a voice reminiscent of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and some of the other outlaws, he belted, crooned, and played with the passing crowd in a way that showed a simple love of singing and entertaining.  But it was his keyboard work that constantly amazed me throughout the day.

I don’t keep up with current musicians much, so my references will go back a long way.  But then, those guys were the best anyway.  Will Jacobs can run the keyboard as good as Oscar Peterson, Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton ever could.  Change the setting to a dimly lit, smoky Texas honkytonk with neon Lone Star and Bud signs, throw in some Floyd Cramer, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and you begin to get the picture.  Along with a few that he wrote himself, he played all the old standards, from gospel, blues, and boogie woogie to old style country and 50s rock and roll.  We heard it all.  I was in hog heaven the whole day.

Around noon, his friends/family/neighbors fired up a small grill in front of the house behind him.  Just as we were starting to think about finding the food area, Will sauntered across the street and handed Nell and I a plate loaded with a huge helping of chicken, beans, potato salad and bread.  That was really nice.

At 59 years old, this man played and sang for eight hours, taking only a few five minute breaks and time to wolf down some lunch.  He was going just as strong at 4pm as he was at 8am.  He could easily fill a two-hour concert and end with a standing ovation.  Unfortunately, the masses like their music slick and perfect, and with a few exceptions like George Strait and Allan Jackson, they like their performances filled with a lot of jumping around and gimmicks and guitars waving at the sky.  Will doesn’t do gimmicks.  Will does music.

I spent several hours on Sunday scouring the internet, and found nothing about Will Jacobs.  I got the impression from conversation that he grew up in Pasadena, Texas, and played with friends a few times at Gilly’s.  We bought his homegrown CD that has songs recorded live in 1979 at The Stumble Inn in Oak Hill, Texas, and in 1980 at the Diamond Horseshoe in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Not everyone who passed by loved his music, of course.  Many said to us “wow, you’ve got some great entertainment, don’t you?”, but a few said “you have to listen to that all day?”  Our response was that we loved it.  We never tired of it the whole day.  And when they told us to start shutting things down around 4pm because there was a heavy storm heading our way, he looked across the street at us, said “This is for the starving artists out there…” and played a soulful version of ‘The Party’s Over’.  I hope he sold a lot of his CDs and that the tip bucket was full at the end of the day.  He earned every penny of it.

We heard music we grew up on, that took us back to our rock-n-roll teens and our grownup boot-scootin’ days.  I had memories of dancing close on a sanded floor and a table full of empty longnecks.  It was an all day trip down memory lane, and a reminder that I’d best keep painting, because I’ll never do what I’d like to do on a keyboard.

Thanks, Will.

We loved every minute of it.

Will Jacobs, The Piano Player … Available for private events… 817-350-7113

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Farmer permalink
    August 2, 2010 4:50 pm

    Thanks Ralph; grat article on my my brother Will; He was actually born in Weatherford. Bill Farmer (Billy to Will)

    • August 3, 2010 9:45 am

      Really nice to hear from you, Bill. I meant every word of it. Will made our day, and I felt he deserved a mention.

      • September 1, 2011 4:06 pm

        Will Jacobs is a great guy and a good friend of mine,I really hope he goes a long way with his music. His Friend Always,Patricia Workman

  2. August 6, 2010 5:13 am

    Oh. My. God. !!!
    I’ve been trying to contact Will Jacobs for over 30 years!
    I’m a drummer, and Will is an old friend of mine from the 1970s.
    I just happened to searh his name on facebook and it directed me to this page. I’m SO excited! Thankyou!
    Gonna give ‘ol Will a surprise phone call tomorrow!

  3. August 6, 2010 9:48 am

    Hey Ralph,
    I spoke with Will by phone and I’m extremely grateful to you for mentioning him in your blog – it helped two old friends re-connect after three decades!

    Kindest Regards,

    • August 6, 2010 10:47 am

      Steven, that’s really gratifying to hear. I hope he didn’t mind me writing about him, but it was important to me do it. Glad you were able to reconnect. You’ve made my day.

  4. August 8, 2010 5:22 pm

    Weekend update:
    Will and I played a gig last night!
    He traveled with friends (Judy & Gene) from Weatherford up to Oklahoma to meet me. It had been over 30 years!
    We spent some time catching up on Friday night, then drove 4 hrs. north to Guthrie, Oklahoma for an outdoor casual. Will’s performance was the highlight of the evening – no surprise!
    Will and friends are making the long trek back home as I write this.

    Will extends his love to brother Billy Farmer and heartfelt thanks to thank Ralph for the wonderful write-up. We hope to establish an online presence for Will Jacobs by Fall of 2010. I’ll be posting his performance videos on my channel in the coming weeks.

  5. David Aldridge permalink
    November 8, 2010 11:28 pm

    Will Jacobs is the most real-deal musician I ever met. I knew him in Austin in the 1980’s, and if you ever want to hear a story that will make you laugh for days, ask him about the day that “Ruff died”… God bless you, Old Jake, you still kick Jerry Lee’s ass!

    • will jacobs permalink
      July 1, 2012 4:01 pm

      To my old,and dear drumer friend i have not talked to since the earthquake in SANTA CRUZ…..(HELLO)…..The best drumers are,{ half Peurto Rican,and half Jew}….ha ha ha..817 350 7113…

  6. jeff haese permalink
    February 12, 2011 8:43 am

    It was great to see that My brother in music, Will {By God} Jacobs has others that appreciate his{gift}!I am an old friend that has known Will for close to 40 years, and have had the pleasure to play some music with him back in the 1970s and 80s in austin texas.He never wavers from the purity of his craft, and always puts on a stellar show.God bless Will Jacobs, and although it has been a few years since i have seen him,it warms my heart to know that he is still {rockin the house}.

    • February 13, 2011 1:33 pm

      Thanks for adding to the comments, Jeff. It’s been fun to know that I’ve been able to connect a few old friends.

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