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Paul Williams, pioneer of rock criticism, dead at 64

By Todd Leopold, CNN
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Fri March 29, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Williams' Crawdaddy magazine was one of the first to take rock 'n' roll seriously
  • He started the magazine when he was a 17-year-old college student in 1966
  • After leaving the magazine, he wrote three books about Bob Dylan

(CNN) -- Paul Williams, who founded the groundbreaking music magazine Crawdaddy as a 17-year-old student in 1966, has died, according to his wife, singer Cindy Lee Berryhill.

"Rock-writer Paul S Williams, author and creator of CRAWDADDY magazine, (and my husband), passed away last night 10:30 pm PST while his oldest son was holding his hand and by his side," Berryhill wrote on Facebook. "It was a gentle and peaceful passing."

Williams was 64.

Williams was a student at Swarthmore College when he put out the first issue of Crawdaddy in January 1966. He was already well-versed in self-publishing, having put out a science fiction fanzine when he was just 14.

Crawdaddy was something new in the world of pop music: a magazine that took rock 'n' roll seriously. There had been magazines devoted to folk music -- Broadside and Sing Out!, both of which Williams credited as inspirations -- and there was Downbeat for jazz. But rock 'n' roll was still considered music for kids. The music was less than a decade removed from Frank Sinatra calling it "sung, played and written, for the most part, by cretinous goons."

Williams hadn't been a rock fan long himself, he told rockcritics.com in an interview.

"I was still not taking any of it seriously because I was a folk snob. Then I got really excited about 'Rolling Stones Now!' and the single 'The Last Time,' and the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' and the Beatles' 'Ticket to Ride,' " he said. That was 1965.

The magazine soon published writers such as Jon Landau, now Bruce Springsteen's manager and confidant; Sandy Pearlman, who produced Blue Oyster Cult; and Richard Meltzer. It also inspired a young man in San Francisco to try his own rock music magazine. His name was Jann Wenner, and his magazine was Rolling Stone.

Williams left his magazine at the end of 1968, having grown tired of the business end. He did occasional reviews for Rolling Stone -- he gave the Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society" a rave in 1969 -- as well as an article on science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The two became friends, and Williams served as Dick's literary executor when the science-fiction writer died in 1982.

He also visited John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their 1969 Montreal bed-in, and sang on "Give Peace a Chance."

After Dick's death, Williams began the Philip K. Dick Society and edited its newsletter, which became famous as well, according to Williams' website. He continued with music scholarship by writing three books about Bob Dylan and articles on Brian Wilson and Neil Young, the website said.

According to the website, Williams suffered a brain injury in a bicycle accident in 1995 and was unable to continue writing.

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