The virtuosic skills on acoustic guitarist of John Williams have allowed him to move far beyond classical music genres and audiences in his long career.
Even for those who don't know him by name or confuse him with the film score composer of the same name, they are probably familiar with his recording of Cavatina, used in the film The Deer Hunter (1978), which is just one facet of his musical interests.
Williams was born in Melbourne in 1941 and was given his first lessons by his father, also a guitarist. The family moved to London in 1952 to further Williams' musical education. He impressed Andrés Segovia and was invited to study at Segovia's summer courses at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy each year until 1959. Williams also attended the Royal Academy of Music between 1956 and 1959, studying piano and composition because there was no guitar program at the time. During that period, he made his official London debut recital at Wigmore Hall and first recordings when he was just 17, followed by his Paris debut a year later. Williams established the guitar department at the RAM in 1960 and remained a professor there until 1973. By that time, he had been signed to Columbia Masterworks as a counterpart to RCA Victor's Julian Bream and Angel Records' Christopher Parkening. His first release for the label was Columbia Records Presents John Williams, comprised of a transcription of a Bach lute suite and a selection of Spanish guitar music -- classical guitar fans know him well for these two types of work.
Williams' interests have always extended beyond the classical guitar repertory. Even as he performed with well-known orchestras and gave recitals with Bream, he made more wide-ranging music, including the album Changes (1971) -- where he first recorded Stanley Myers' Cavatina -- and The Height Below, both done for the progressive imprint Fly Records. He also worked in a jazz-classical fusion mode with Ronnie Scott, and in folk music on a tour with Ralph McTell. He and four other musicians -- Francis Monkman, Tristan Fry, Kevin Peek, and Herbie Flowers -- formed the jazz-rock fusion quintet Sky in 1978, in which he sometimes played electric guitar. Sky made the charts in England in 1980 with his arrangement of a Bach toccata and fugue. After the release of The Deer Hunter, the Cavatina made the British Top 20.
Among Williams' more famous albums are his 1974 version of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez with the English Chamber Orchestra; his collaborations with Julian Bream, and ones with Cleo Laine and Paco Peña; and 2002's The Magic Box, which explores world music. In 2010, Williams began his own label, JCW Records, often-- but not always -- featuring his own compositions. Its 2018 release, The Flower of Cities, was titled after the concerto by Stephen Goss, one of many Williams has commissioned over the years.