Eric “Ewill” Williams has made a major name for himself in the music industry. His sound speaks for itself. He’s worked with the likes of Anthony Hamilton to TLC to En Vogue. Also, being the musical director for GRAMMY winner Fantasia, showing up on programs such as Good Morning and Jimmy Kimmel LIVE.
But, what he cherishes the most is his relationship with God and what he feels is his mission in life to mentor young people not only about music and but life helping them reach their own destiny and fulfill their purpose.
Charles Clark: First of all, it is a very rare thing that I get to interview someone that I’ve known for a long time. So, this is cool but a little odd at the same time, Brotha. Thank you so much for taking out the time to talk to me today. I appreciate it, man.
Eric Williams: Thank you, man for taking the time out to allow me to talk with you.
CC: So, my first question is easy… Who is Eric Williams?
EW: Man… Eric Williams is a young man that loves God; that loves music; that loves family; that loves people… All wrapped up in one guy.
CC: I like that! So, Eric Williams is – by far – one of the most talented musicians to ever put his hands on the keyboard. That is a statement that I have seen and heard from a lot of people.
CC: How did you become interested in being a musician? What was the first epiphany that made you say, “I want to be a musician”?
EW: Well, I believe it started when I was a child. My dad [is] a musician. He started off in Buffalo, NY under Rick James and the Stone City Band; so I would listen to him play, as a child, you know… probably still in my mother’s womb. But I believe the thing that really grabbed my attention and really caused me to play was church… you know, going to church… As a church kid, it seems like you’re in church every night of the week. For the most part, that’s what it was like when I was coming up. I took a special liking to the drum, at first… But I ran into a problem: I could play the drums at church but I could never play the drums at home because it was too noisy. It was too loud for my mother and my dad. So, my great-grandparents, who lived in Chicago at the time, they purchased a keyboard for me at the age of twelve or thirteen. I got the keyboard, man, at Christmas and I didn’t really want to play it. I wanted more to see what sounds it had and everything like that. But during my summer vacation, going into my freshman year of high school, I just took a liking to it. I would play it at night. I would play it until my batteries died, just learning songs or trying to figure chords and everything like that. So, that’s when I realized that I really had a liking for the keyboards. It was like, I got the keyboard and I can express how I felt, through music, on the keyboard. [I started] making up my own songs and things of that nature.
CC: So, do you remember the first song you learned how to play?
EW: One was Jesus Is On the Main Line, Call Him Up and Tell him What You Want. And the second was shouting music… You had to learn how to play shouting music. Those are the two things I learned how to play first that came to me.
CC: Wow… As a preacher’s kid myself, all I listened to at home was Gospel music. It wasn’t until I got to school that I was exposed to Jazz… Billie Holiday was the very first song that I learned in school and I had to sing it. So, you being a church kid at first – well, always, really – what was the first piece of music that you listened to that wasn’t Gospel music that just had your ear that you had to play over and over again?
EW: Oh, man, it was an R&B record by a group named Jodeci. I believe it was Forever My Lady and Stay. Those were huge records. When I heard those records on the radio, it put me in a place… It just felt good. Devante took a solo on the bridge in Forever My Lady, on the synthesizer solo – and I remember hearing it and I was like: Whoa, what was that?! How did he get that sound?! I was listening to it and I was like I have to learn how to play this. So, that, right there, just changed my whole outlook on music. You know, Gospel music can lose the groove because it can get really busy… The musicians want to play everything they know in one song. And listening to that, I found that it was simple but it just felt so good. I felt love. I could feel the musical integrity, if I can say.
CC: Okay… So, has there ever been this conflict with you about what people call the sacred and the secular?
EW: Man, yes. Actually, at the age of 18, I was called to put a band together to go to Florida with one of Jill Scott’s back-up singers. She was going solo and she called me t put the band together. I put the band together and we were working on everything and it was going great. I remember I went to church… My grandmother was a missionary and I came from a church family… She asked me what kind of music I would be playing and I told her. She said, “Nuh-uh! Not my baby! My baby not gone take the gift that God gave him and use it for the Devil!” I remember I was like, I’m not using it for the Devil, I just want to go and make money… I want to make a living; it’s a great opportunity. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to her and she prayed for me. I went to the church and they prayed for me; and the pastor said it was okay for me to go. He said I would learn; I would get something out of it. So, I went down to Florida and I was doing me. You’re young and you’re dumb and certain things happen and you feel confidence when it’s your first time around… I was, like, a freshman in college and you see all this freedom and just get carried away with it. I was down there for a month and I came home and went to church… I was so happy to be there. And they asked me to play. I got on the keyboard and started to play Amazing Grace and I felt nothing. I couldn’t understand. I remember people looking at me and one of the Mothers of the church said, “We’re praying for you.” And I couldn’t understand what was happening. It had only been a month that I was sitting in this church playing. And it hit me that I had been down there living any kind of way and I felt like I kinda gave up who I was to become something that I was never called to be.
EW: So, when I got on the keyboard, I realized that. And when I went back to Florida, I had a very bad dream that God let me know I had to get out of there right away because there was some foolishness going on. I came back home and I remember f=going to the church every morning at 6:00 AM for a week to pray and God to restore the gift that He had blessed me with and give me back that anointing that I once had. So, that was a major turning point. So, you may ask, well why [do you] do R&B now? Well, I discovered who I was. And when you know who you are, you don’t do other things that’s not related to who you are.
CC: So, let me ask you this, because you have played for all these artists… Most recently Anthony Hamilton… Fantasia… So, because you know who Eric is, are there some artists that you just won’t play for?
EW: Absolutely! There are several artists… and I’ve been blessed to have my phone ring these days quite a lot. So, not only am I doing music and production, but I’m also doing consulting when it comes to putting bands together for different artists. So, there’s certain clients who I will take the business, but I will not personally go with that client on the road or personally really work with them hands-on myself.
CC: How did you come to that conclusion? Because you’ve been everywhere… We’ve seen you on The Today Show; we’ve seen you on television shows, back of CD covers – name listed – and all that kinda jazz…
EW: God is good…
CC: Yes, He is! But the first thing that people say is, “Is he saved? Does he talk to the Holy Ghost?” And I say that everyone is called to a different type of ministry. And everyone can’t handle it. And so, I know that you would like to go into ministry…
CC: So, how have the experiences from when you were 18 until now taught you about what ministry really is?
EW: That’s a great question! My first call, besides the Florida call, was actually to go out to Los Angeles to work with one of the producers of Michael Jackson – the creator of New Jack Swing – which is Mr. Teddy Riley. That was my first assignment. I went out to LA and I was 23. I had a great time. Came to find out that he was a believer. So, I had the chance to connect with other believers who were operating in their given territories of ministry. They were infiltrating in those arenas. So, it made me think I can do this and not compromise who I am as a person. So I went on with BellBivDevoe, New Edition, Tony! Toni! Toné!, En Vogue… Went on and did a tour with Maxwell, DeAngelo… Did Anthony Hamilton, Leela James… Fantasia, now, I’m the musical director for her… And I realized that God has called me in that genre, in that realm of ministry…And what made me realize that is I was reading the Bible and it was talking about how He sent them – the Disciples – to the uttermost parts of the Earth… Going to the uttermost parts of the Earth… So, if I’m going to Europe, I have to speak their language… Music is one of the only things that transfers worldwide. I can play a song in Buffalo, NY and take the same record on the same piano and play that same song in Italy, and people will receive it and understand what I’m playing.
CC: Based on what you just said, even though you’re playing that particular genre of music, your life is unchanged. Your life is still in ministry…. You’re just using the language of music to infiltrate – as the old folks would say – go to the highway and the trenches.
EW: Right… I’m still vertical. I was reading the Bible and it said that David played and the evil spirit departed. And I asked myself the question: But how did David know what to play for that spirit to depart? So, he had to actually be in tune to where God was. And I said, “Thank you, God.” At that moment, I heard something say there’s too many lights trying to light… There’s too many gifted people only going to the church. The building – the church – and only making music for the church, when God has called us to the uttermost parts of the Earth to take His message everywhere. He said, “Eric E-Will, son, I have given you a platform… This platform is for my glory and my purpose. There will people who will come to you and ask how you did it and you can tell them about me, about a man named Jesus, because they want to know…” You’d be surprised… I’ve been in places where people are drinking and they’re doing whatever they want to do and they come to me and I had a chance to break [it] down and tell them it’s the Spirit of God that’s in me. And I let them know I’m a believer. And it’s been great. It’s been great to the point we did Good Morning, America – it was me, Fantasia and Taja Bent – and one of the songs they requested was I Made It… They requested that song on Good Morning, America! We’re going all around the world singing multiple records and they wanted that song… So, we’re infiltrating, man. I feel like God has brought me all around the globe, from different artists and producers, to connect me with like-minded people in ministry who also [have] a platform for His glory.
CC: Do you think that that is a special calling because everyone can’t do that? Is this a road that is specifically for people like you?
EW: I feel like there’s a lot of roads that other people are on, as well, that I feel like I couldn’t [do], that’s not for me. I feel like we’re all called to do different things. Whatever we’re called to do, we have to infiltrate in our given territories. What works for me, may not work for you or the next man. Whatever it is, it’s all about you’re called to do and what’s in your heart. I feel like… I know that God created us and He knows us… He knows what’s in your heart. He made you and He knows what you need… Now, granted, I’m in this arena, and I feel like, at a certain time, my time will be up and I’ll have to pass the torch to another young man or young woman who’s gonna walk in my shoes and take what I’ve done – what God has allowed me to do – to the next level. And I’ll be able to sit back and go back to what I come from. But, I will have this platform to draw His people. I feel like God is doing a work that is really unconventional. A lot of people really didn’t want to receive the Word of Jesus; they didn’t want to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But, in fact, he was! [People say,] “Who’s this guy up here singing all these secular R&B songs? Ain’t no way he’s a believer!” But, in fact, he IS! So, when all of that comes together, a lot of people we would never know until it’s all said and done.
CC: So, what’s next for you, then?
EW: Well, I have a plan, but I know God has a plan, as well… And I feel like what is next for me is moving into the communities where I’m reaching out to the young teenagers to help them tap into who they are… and to help them express what they’re feeling, through the arts. I feel like that’s my gift; to give back. As I’m giving back, I feel like God will give me more. That’s my ministry right now; that’s the next realm of ministry I’m in. I’m doing television, working on a huge contract with a major network right now and God is doing great things. So, who knows? By the time I’m 40, I may be retired from doing what I’m doing and all this traveling to sit down and be settled. I feel like I’m just moving into a different realm of ministry.
CC: What is one thing that the 34-year-old Eric can tell the 18-year-old Eric?
EW: Oh, God Almighty! [Chuckles] There’s not only one thing. I feel like there [are] several things. First of all, one thing that I would tell my younger self is to be patient. At a young age, I did a lot of running, searching, trying to find and I fell into a lot of pits because I was rushing. There’s nothing wrong with searching and trying to find a thing; but, I feel like if I [had been] patient and listened to the voice of God, I could have avoided a lot of things I’ve been through or fell into. Another thing I would tell myself is to open myself up for the world to see and not worry about the consequences. And I say this for a reason. A lot of us, we have great stories and we try to cover up a lot of stuff that could help heal or catapult someone else’s life. You know, we don’t want to use our obstacles or our storms or our testimonies… “I can’t let nobody see this because they’ll judge me.” I would tell myself to be open more… Those are two major things I would tell myself.
CC: Wow… So, as you now continue on in ministry, what do you now want to share? What are some of the lessons that you have learned, after all this time that you now want to impart into our young men right now?
EW: One thing that I want to impart in our young men is to love yourself. When you love yourself, there are certain things you won’t do to your body. There’s a certain way you will carry yourself, when you love yourself. When you love yourself, there are certain things that you won’t say to another person. When you love yourself, you will act a certain way and you will give. I feel that is what the world is really lacking now; I really don’t feel like we’re loving ourselves such that we are giving to others. If I can impart that into the young men, in exchange, if they love themselves, they will impart that into the young women and we can change a nation by each one reaching one and loving one another.
CC: Wow… Yeah… So, after all these years, when you sit down at the keyboard, what is your favorite thing to play? When it is just you and your time with God, what is it that you want to play?
EW: Actually, I really don’t have a song. It may sound weird…But I believe, of course, God created us in His image. He created the Heavens and the Earth. He created us in His image, so I feel like we have the right to create. So, most of the time I sit down, my prayer is this: “God, what do you have for me to create to give back to You today?” I’m an open book… Let me produce the sound that you produce in Heaven, so that when I play, Your people will hear this. Listen, these aren’t made in the public; these are made in the secret place, so whatever You have for me to create in this secret place, in my worship time between me and You, when the people hear it, let them feel the love. Let them hear the love in the music and recognize the sound because it’s a song of God; it’s a love song from Him. That’s what I really try to tap into… Every time I sit down. I just close my eyes and I don’t think about what sounds good, what makes this musically… I just flow. A lot of people don’t get me and I might not make them happy; but, as long as my Father is pleased…
CC: In this process, over the past decade, you have been working hard… What have you learned about yourself?
EW: That’s a really good question. One major thing I’ve learned is that I love people. Coming from Upstate New York, it’s not the friendliest place to grow up, but I’ve learned that I LOVE people. I love to love on people, but I’ve learned that I love to feel and receive love. Many times, I would give out love, but I had a hard time receiving it. That’s what I learned about me and it’s great.
CC: Well, Brotha… I’m done and I thank you.
EW: Man, I thank you. You blessed me.