You know, I can remember the exact moment I met Ian Williams. It was a small cramped basement in Pittsburgh, and I had twisted my foot two days earlier in a jogging mishap so I was walking on crutches (which I continued to do for the next month). A small crowd of maybe 30 were watching Nation of Ulysses as they were touring in support of their first single on K/Dischord. There were super low ceilings, so seeing Ian Svevonious bang his head repeatedly, along with the 15 minute set kinda put that show in the upper echelons of shows that (even to this day) register as one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.
After the show, as I was trying to manage my way up the steps with those damned crutches, Ian (then only 18) offered to help me up the tight stairway. And once outside and telling him I didn’t have a car, he and his bandmate Karl (Hendricks, of Sludgehammer and later his own self titled Trio) took me to a diner for coffee and then home. Over the next few months, Ian and I continued to run into each other quite a bit. He lived a few blocks down from me and well, he was hard not to like. Ian was basically a very sweet guy who I only knew as an adequate drummer (who, I forgot to mention, also sang) and who was a janitor at the University of Pittsburgh.
It was only around June of 1991 (at a Skin Yard show, I think) that I recollect Ian telling me that Sludgehammer was breaking up and that he was going to dedicate himself to finding a band to play guitar in. "Dude, you don’t play guitar!" is exactly what I said. God, was I ever wrong.
Flash ahead to the spring of 1993. I was already living in Athens and Don Caballero’s For Respect came out around that time. Seeing Ian’s name on the credits was a bit of a shock, especially considering that on the times I had seen Don Cab, they were a scrappy 3-piece. So less than 2 months later, I drove down to Atlanta to see Don Caballero open up for the equally brand-spankin’-new Archers of Loaf at the Somber Reptile over near the Georgia Tech campus. It didn’t take me 3 minutes to realize what a talented sumbitch Ian had become in the two years I hadn’t seen him. That line-up (and all subsequent Don Cab line ups) were fantastic and I always loved seeing them live.
The one time Don Cab played Athens with Ian at the 40 Watt Club, I was living in a duplex on the east side of town. I remember he walked into the other apartment in the building and looked all around for his bandmates. The residents of that half ran into him and chased him out. I don’t know why, but that memory still sticks with me. Funny guy, especially when he’s not even trying.
However, around 1996, I heard rumblings that Ian was doing a more loosely arranged/abstract project with some friends in the Forbes Terrace in Pittsburgh. His bandmates Eric Topolsky and Kevin Shea were quiet, but always very pleasant. The thing that was odd though, was to see how Ian was changing into what is now considered his stereotypical gum-cracking, aloof, stuffy, faux academic, snarky and downright assholish persona. It was like I wasn’t talking to the Ian I knew, but rather talking to a caricature. The thing that kinda irritated me is how I could see the sweet Ian behind the façade.
It was about a year later when I was living in Atlanta that Ian called up and asked me to set up a show for his now named Storm & Stress which I gladly did at Under The Couch on the Tech campus. And a week out? He cancelled. Bastard.
It was 3 years later on their second album that I got to put on another show with S&S at the Eyedrum on Trinity. I remember Touch & Go’s posters for the show were large white posters with white print (or a varnish) on it. What an absolute waste of paper…
A good crowd showed up who mostly were there to admire Ian and his bad-ass guitar skillz, but to be honest with you, I didn’t "get" the live show one bit. In fact, I thought they were kinda full of it. And to see how snippy the interactions between Kevin and Eric and Ian were kind of made it uncomfortable to talk with them, so I kept chat to a minimum.
But you know what? I finally got a glimpse of the Ian I used to know when I put on my first Battles show a few years back at the EARL. I think being around a less egotistical group of folks did him a world of good. And of course, getting out of Pittsburgh didn’t hurt either. Since then, Ian has been downright enjoyable to be around and let’s be honest, Don Cab has suffered since his departure from the band.
For lack of having a single 5 minute live S&S track instead of one long 50 minute one, I’m posting a couple of mp3s of Sludgehammer just to let you, devoted reader, get a glimpse of what Mr. Williams was like musically when I first met him down in that basement in Pittsburgh in 1990.
1990? Christ, I’m old.
Sludgehammer – Dynamite Lady
Sludgehammer – Belvedere
Sludgehammer – Cherry Pop
Sludgehammer – Pit Boss