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Grey Ghost

Photo by Scott Van Osdol
Pianist Roosevelt T. Williams, better known as "Grey Ghost," entertained Central Texas audiences from the 1920s through the 1990s with his jazz-tinged barrelhouse blues. Once called the "Thelonious Monk of Blues," Williams was born Dec. 7, 1903, in Bastrop. Armed with basic musical training as a teen, he used his good ear to absorb African-American, Anglo, Mexican, and Eastern European styles pouring out of area dances and roadhouses. Williams often traveled to and from gigs by slipping onto empty boxcars, which earned him the Grey Ghost appellation. In 1940, folklorist William Owens made a field recording of Grey Ghost singing "Hitler Blues" after hearing him perform at a Navasota skating rink. The song was mentioned in Time magazine and ultimately broadcast over BBC radio in an Alistair Cooke story about the American musical response to World War II. Although the notoriety of "Hitler Blues" did not make Grey Ghost a star, he became a familiar figure in East Austin clubs like the Victory Grill and Fat Green's during their postwar heyday. In 1965, local music historian Tary Owens recorded several Grey Ghost songs, which led to festival appearances alongside Mance Lipscomb and Janis Joplin. After years of relative obscurity, Owens tracked down Grey Ghost again in the mid-Eighties, introducing him to a new generation of blues fans via regular gigs at Antone's and the Continental Club. The city proclaimed Dec. 7, 1987, as Grey Ghost Day, and he was voted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame the following year. Grey Ghost's one eponymous solo album was released in 1992 on Owens' Spindletop label. He also appeared on Catfish's Texas Piano Professors compilation alongside Erbie Bowser and Lavada "Dr. Hepcat" Durst. Grey Ghost passed away on July 17, 1996, at age 92. – Greg Beets

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Last Updated: September 20, 2007

A B C D E F G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Born:
December 7, 1903
 
Died:
July 17, 1996
Genre: Blues/Gospel
Austin Music Awards:
1987: Hall of Fame Inductee
Full Discography:
Grey Ghost
Spindletop (1992)
 
From the Archives:
Sheiks of Industry (Music Story November 14, 2003)

Austin record labels, part 1
Bright Lights, Inner City (Music Story July 4, 2003)

When Austin's Eastside music scene was lit up like Broadway
ALL GREY GHOST ARCHIVES