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Mason Williams
Born August 24, 1938 (1938-08-24) (age 71)
Genres Classical guitar, bluegrass, easy listening, folk
Occupations Musician, composer, songwriter, writer, poet, photographer
Instruments 12-string guitar, banjo, classical guitar
Years active 1958–present
Labels American Gramaphone, Everest, Flying Fish, Olympic, Real Music, Skookum, Vanguard, Vee-Jay, Warner Bros., WEA

Mason Douglas Williams (born August 24, 1938) is an American guitarist and composer, best known for his guitar instrumental "Classical Gas". He is also a comedy writer, known for his writing on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and Saturday Night Live. He is also an eclectic poet and lyricist, who has published several books.



Mason Williams was born in Abilene, Texas. He grew up in Oakridge, Oregon,[1] and graduated from Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He went to college at Oklahoma City University. He lived for a time in Oakridge,[2] and as of 2006, he lived in Eugene, Oregon with his wife, who is a defense attorney.[1]




Mason Williams emerged in the late 1960s as a strong force in television and music circles. In 1968 he won two Grammy Awards for his unique composition for guitar, "Classical Gas". That same year he also won an Emmy Award for his work as a comedy writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

In 1970, Williams made a memorable television appearance on a variety show, Just Friends, which reunited regulars of the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. To create a visual element for his performance, he used a special playable classical plexiglass guitar built for him by Billy Cheatwood and a prop designer for ABC. For the performance, Williams filled the guitar with water and added a couple of goldfish. He then used the plexiglass guitar to finger-sync his hit version of "Classical Gas".

Williams is perhaps most widely known as a composer and recording artist. He has recorded more than a dozen albums, five on the Warner Bros. label (The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, The Mason Williams Ear Show, Music, Handmade, and Sharepickers). "Classical Gas" was released as a single from The Mason Williams Phonograph Record in 1968. "Classical Gas" won three Grammys that year for "Best Instrumental (theme) Composition", "Best Instrumental (theme) Performance", and "Best Instrumental Orchestra Arrangement". He also wrote songs for the The Kingston Trio. For both Handmade and Sharepickers, Mason received two more Grammy nominations for "Best Album Cover Design".

In 1987, Williams teamed up with Mannheim Steamroller, of Fresh Aire fame, to release a new album on the American Gramaphone label. The album, titled Classical Gas, included a remake of the 1968 song. Another cut from this album, "Country Idyll", was a 1988 nominee for a Grammy in the country music category for "Best Instrumental Performance by a Soloist, Group or Orchestra". The album went gold in 1991. Williams' plexiglass guitar appears on the cover of this album.

Williams released an acoustic instrumental album of Christmas and holiday music, A Gift of Song, on the Real Music label, featuring arrangements of traditional carols and original compositions. In 1992, the Vanguard label released Music 1968–1971, a compilation of cuts from his five Warner Bros. albums recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In the last few years, Williams has concentrated on a variety of programs for his concert appearances. His "Concert For Bluegrass Band And Orchestra", also titled "Symphonic Bluegrass", has been performed with over 40 symphonies, including the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Louisville Orchestra, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Williams released an album, Concert For Bluegrass Band And Orchestra, on his own Skookum label containing 14 of the approximately 35 songs performed in the concert. In 1993, the title cut from the album was used as the soundtrack for a ninety-second public service announcement (PSA) created by The American Rivers Council on the home video release of Robert Redford's film A River Runs Through It. The PSA was also on the 1995 home video release of The River Wild.

In conjunction with the release of the A Gift of Song CD in 1992, Williams has added a "Holiday Concert Program" to his repertoire, featuring music from the album as well as other traditional music of the season. In 1994, he played six sold-out concerts with the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon. In the 1990s he also performed with the Eugene Symphony with friend Ken Kesey.[1]

During 1995–1998 Williams performed all four of his concerts. In 1995, he was invited to play for Oregon governor John Kitzhaber's inauguration. In 1996, Williams received an honorary Doctorate of Music from his alma mater, Oklahoma City University.

In 1998, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), the music licensing organization that tracks air play performances on radio and television, presented Williams with a Special Citation of Achievement in recognition of the great national and international popularity of "Classical Gas". It has logged over three million broadcast performances to become the all-time number-one instrumental composition for air play in BMI's repertoire, replacing the previous number-one tune, the theme from Moulin Rouge, "Where Is Your Heart" by Michel Legrand, released in 1953.

In 1999, Williams played again for the governor of Oregon's second inauguration. In February, Williams' "Bus" art piece was included in the Norton Simon Museum exhibition "Radical Past", in Pasadena, California. In the spring he played his Of Time and Rivers Flowing concert with the Oregon Children's Choral Festival, a two-day event involving 3,000 elementary school children singing water and rivers songs with Williams and his band. Williams received the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oregon in honor of his Contribution to Oregon's arts.

In the fall of 1999, he and the Bluegrass Band played for Byron Berline's Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie, Oklahoma with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.

He has also written music for soundtracks of movies including The Story of Us, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Dish, The Heidi Chronicles, and Heartbreakers. His compositions have been played on the television series The Sopranos as well.

In 2003, he released an EP, Music for the Epicurean Harkener, and was again nominated for a Grammy in 2004 for best instrumental album. He released an album with UK guitarist Zoe McCulloch, Electrical Gas, in 2005.

In June 2006, Williams performed at his 50th high school reunion at Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City. He performed as Mason Williams and Friends, the friends including Art Maddox, Mark Schneider, Thom Bergeron, Don Latarski, and Dennis Caffey, at concerts in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon and at the opening gala at the Richard E. Wildish Community Theater in Springfield.[1] He also made special guest appearances in September with many other guitarists at Primal Twang in San Diego, California, and with Craig Einhorn and the Umpqua Symphony Orchestra in Roseburg, Oregon.

In January 2007, he was reunited with longtime friend[3] and artist Edward Ruscha, performing at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.[4] In October 2007, he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.[5] and co-headlined a concert with Everclear and also with Paul Revere and the Raiders.


Like many writer-performers, Mason Williams was also a talented stand-up comedian. Unlike the standard comedy acts of the 1960s, however, Williams set most of his comic ideas to music, and sang or recited the jokes in lyric form, with guitar accompaniment. In 1964, Vee-Jay Records released Them Poems, a record album on which Williams entertains a live audience with "them poems about them people," covering such varied topics as "Them Moose Goosers," "Them Sand Pickers," and "Them Surf Serfs." A typical "them poem" is "Them Banjo Pickers," which begins: "Them banjo pickers! Mighty funny ways. Same damn song for three or four days!" Several other "them" poems, along with many ditties, song lyrics, odd and amusing photographs from around the country and assorted bits of visual and verbal silliness are collected in The Mason Williams Reading Matter (Doubleday, 1969), and the Them Poems record album was reissued (also in 1969, on the heels of the success of "Classical Gas") as The Mason Williams Listening Matter.

As a comedy writer, Williams has written for more than 150 hours of network television programming. Writing both music and comedy, Williams was a prime creative force for CBS' controversial Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. His extensive repertoire in folk music gave him the background for many of Tom and Dick Smothers' comedy routines, and with co-writer Nancy Ames, he also composed the show's musical theme. He also created and perpetuated the 1968 "Pat Paulsen for President" campaign, an elaborate political satire. Williams's longest running contribution to date is the launching of the career of Steve Martin. Martin was initially hired by Williams as a writer on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, for which his contributions were initially paid out of Williams' own pocket.

Other major television personalities he has written for include Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, Dinah Shore, Roger Miller, and Petula Clark. In 1980, Williams briefly served as head writer for NBC's Saturday Night Live, but left after clashing with producer Jean Doumanian. In 1988, Williams received his third Emmy nomination as a comedy writer for his work on The Smothers Brothers 20th Reunion Special on CBS. According to his book, The Mason Williams FCC Rapport, Williams also credits himself with the first concept of a VJ and for MTV. His concept included visual representations of the music and a video host announcing each piece of music on the air. CBS executives scoffed at his idea at the time. However, this didn't stop him from trying out his idea on the air, as his composition Classical Gas was played on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour against a backdrop of 2,000 Renaissance art pieces, which effectively made the composition one of the first music videos.

In February 2000, Williams participated in the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. The sixth annual festival honored The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and its unique contribution to television. Williams performed a concert with Tom and Dick, and again on a late night show with performers that included Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Marc Shaiman.


After becoming involved in protests against a Willamette River hydroelectric power project,[2] Williams began to think of how the river itself should have a voice in its fate, and eventually collected over 400 songs about rivers, which he crafted into his program Of Time and Rivers Flowing.[6] A chronological "river" of music and time, it encompasses the realms of classical, folk, minstrel, gospel, jazz, country, pop, and contemporary rock. Williams has performed the program for benefits, conferences, and in concert.


July 14, 1960 Little Billy Blue Shoes/Run Come See
August 1960 Folk Music as Heard at The Gourd
April 1961 Songs of the Blue and Grey ; recorded by The Wayfarers Trio
April 30, 1962 Away All Boats
1963 The Big Hootenanny
March 12, 1963 I Am an American
August 26, 1963 More Hootenany
Unknown[7] Feudin' Banjos
1963 The Twelve-String Story Vol. I
1963 The Twelve-String Story Vol. II
October 1963 The Banjo Story
October 29, 1963 Folk Baroque
2 April 1964 5-String Banjo Greats
1964 Them Poems
December 24, 1965 Introducing Jayne Heather
April 1965 Tour de Farce (The Smothers Brothers)
April 22, 1966 Love Are Wine/The Exciting Accident
1966 The Smothers Brothers Play It Straight
1968 Classical Gas/Baroque-a-Nova
February 1968 The Mason Williams Phonograph Record
August 10, 1968 Classical Gas/Long Time Blues
November 1968 The Mason Williams Ear Show
1968 Saturday Night at the World/One-Minute Commercial
March 13, 1969 Music
March 1969 Greensleeves/$13 Stella
1969 Jennifer
March 1969 The Mason Williams Listening Matter (Them Poems)
March 10, 1970 Handmade
1970 José's Piece
1 January 1971 Improved
October 1971 Sharepickers
1971 Train Ride in G/Here I Am Again
November 1978 Fresh Fish
December 1984 Of Time and Rivers Flowing
October 22, 1987 Classical Gas — Mason Williams and Mannheim Steamroller
July 13, 1992 Music 1968 – 1972
September 18, 1992 A Gift of Song
1994 Rock Instrumental Classics, Vol. 2: The Sixties
September 1995 Fiddle and a Song
Unknown 1968 Billboard Top Pop Hits (Rhino) (features "Classical Gas")
December 20, 1995 1995 Sony Disc Manufacturing Holiday Choir
9 April 1996 Cascadia (1996 Oregon Governor's Arts Awards)
May 17, 1996 Of Time and Rivers Flowing (re-released)
December 25, 2003 Music for the Epicurean Harkener (EP)
September 27, 2005 Electrical Gas — Mason Williams and Zoe McCulloch, Online at
September 30, 2006 Classical Gas - Mason Williams, Craig Einhorn, Online at
December 1, 2006 Classical Gas - Mason Williams at the Wildish Theater, Online at

April, 2008 40th anniversary of Classical Gas - Classical Gas with Mason Williams and the original Dan McLaughlin "Classical Gas Video" as it appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968. Online at

Source: and Yahoo's "Mason Williams: Discography".


  1. ^ a b c d Keefer, Bob (November 30, 2006). "Wildish Theater opening: Bring on Mason Williams". The Register-Guard (via the Free Library). Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  2. ^ a b Tewkesbury, Don (August 17, 1987). "Songs of the River Down By the Lake". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  3. ^ Bluhm, Erik. Along for the Ride: Ed Ruscha and Mason Williams. ArtUS, May/June 2006, issue 13, pages 10-13.
  4. ^ Getty Research Institute. Modern Art in Los Angeles: Okies Go West. An Evening With Jerry McMillan, Ed Ruscha and Mason Williams (panel discussion and performance). January 24, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2008.
  5. ^ Oregon Music Hall of Fame Honorees
  6. ^ Williams, Mason (May 1996). ""Of Time and Rivers Flowing Concert History"". Retrieved 2006-10-28. 
  7. ^ The release date of Feudin' Banjos is unknown. Its chronological position in the list is estimated from context. The Everest 7105 album was issued in 1973

Further reading

  • Williams, Mason, Edward Ruscha, and Patrick Blackwell. Royal road test. New York: G. Wittenborn, 1967.
  • Williams, Mason, and Jinx Kragen. Pat Paulsen for president. Beverly Hills, CA: Kragen/Fritz, 1968.
  • Williams, Mason. The Mason Williams reading matter. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969.
  • Ruscha, Edward, and Mason Williams. Crackers. Hollywood, Calif.: Heavy Industries, 1969.
  • Williams, Mason. The Mason Williams F.C.C. rapport. New York: Liveright, 1969. ISBN 0871400227
  • Williams, Mason. Flavors. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970.
  • Williams, Mason. Them poems. Madison, WI: Parallel Press, 2000. ISBN 1893311112

External links

Simple English

Mason Williams
Born August 24, 1938 (1938-08-24) (age 72)
Genres Classical guitar, bluegrass, easy listening, folk
Occupations Musician, composer, songwriter, writer, poet, photographer
Instruments 12-string guitar, banjo, classical guitar
Years active 1960–present
Labels American Gramaphone, Everest, Flying Fish, Olympic, Real Music, Skookum, Vanguard, Vee-Jay, Warner Bros., WEA

Mason Williams (born August 24, 1938) is an easy listening guitarist. His most famous work is Classical Gas.


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