I Love Life: In Memory of ‘Three Wooden Crosses’ Songwriter Kim Williams
A friend of mine, who has been featured on "I Love Life," recently died unexpectedly while on vacation. Kim Williams was one of Nashville's hottest songwriters. The Tennessee native penned songs for some of country music's celebrities, including Garth Brooks, Randy Travis and Kenny Chesney.
I had a chance to interview Kim several times and then put together his story for "I Love Life." Kim, as you'll find out, wasn't only a legendary songwriter. He was also a real survivor!
Kim Williams quiet life was rocked back in 1974 when he was caught in a fire at the Johnson City, Tennessee plant where he worked! “I was a technician for a float glass plant. That’s a process where they make glass without polishing it. At the time, we were putting in a new line and had been working 16-hour days for some 40 days in a row. I got up before day light one morning, went to work and never came back again. I was lucky to come back at all. A panel exploded and my clothing instantly caught on fire.” The massive explosion resulted in third-degree burns over much of Kim’s body. In fact, the native Tennessean underwent over 200 reconstructive surgeries before he was back on his feet.
Kim frequently traveled from his home to Nashville for treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. During his lengthy and painful recovery, Kim decided to make a career change---and what a change it was. “My wife and I got an apartment in Nashville one summer because the surgeries were so close together. While I was in town, I saw an ad in the local paper about a songwriting course and decided to enroll. It really sparked an interest I had in the music business, especially the composition of the songs.”
Kim vividly recalls the early classes. “I remember going in there with my whole face and the rest of my body bandaged. But, it’s where I wanted to be. What I really loved was hearing from the people who wrote the classics of country music. At times, the professor would bring in successful songwriters. Eddie Miller, who wrote Please Release Me, was one of them. I really got fired up! It took some time before I wrote commercially because of the surgeries and my recovery from the operations.”
But, when he kicked off his second career, Kim Williams quickly became one of Music City’s hottest songwriters, especially when he teamed up with a young Oklahoma singer songwriter, Garth Brooks. “I was working with an independent publisher at the time. While at the post office, she ran into Bob Dole who eventually became Garth’s manager. Bob told her about an aspiring singer who was looking for fresh material. She sent Bob some of my songs, including Right To Remain Silent that another singer had recorded. Garth really like the writing and sent word back he wanted to work with me. We met for lunch and really hit it off. From then on, every Monday, we’d get together to write.”
That was just the beginning for Kim who has since written one of country music’s most honored songs, Three Wooden Crosses. “Doug Johnson, who was leaving Giant records, called me and wanted to write together. When we met, he sang me the whole first verse. It just blew my mind! In my idea book, I had a little line---‘it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave behind.’ We wrapped the chorus around that and kept writing. I’m still amazed because some of this writing is on a spiritual level. I don’t think we’re as brilliant as some people think we are. I just think sometimes you’re being led sometimes at that place where Harlan Howard used to call it. I think Doug and I were really tuned into this song. Best I remember, we finished the song in one setting. The rest is country music history!”
Aside from his work with Garth Brooks---Kenny Chesney, Reba McIntyre, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Alan Jackson and a host of other country stars have recorded Kim’s songs. It seems Kim---once he discovered his purpose in life was unstoppable!
Motivational author Napoleon Hill---when asked about adversity---responded this way: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” Kim Williams, recognized as one of Nashville’s hardest working songwriters, wholeheartedly agrees!
Rest in Peace, Kim!