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Paul Williams on the Founding of America's First Rock Magazine

March 29, 2013  |  1:25pm
Paul Williams on the Founding of America's First Rock Magazine

This week, we lost one of the godfathers of American rock criticism. Before Rolling Stone was a twinkle in Jann Wenner’s eye, before Barry Kramer and Tony Reay founded Creem, a Swarthmore College freshman named Paul Williams created Crawdaddy! on mimeographed pages. The entire first issue was written by Williams. He would go on to write 25 books as one of the world’s authorities on Bob Dyland, Philip K. Dick and Neil Young. He passed away March 27 from complications dating back to a bike accident he suffered in 1995. Here, in his own words, he recounts the founding of Crawdaddy! in January 1966.—Josh Jackson

From The Crawdaddy! Book
Introduction to First Issue by Paul Williams

The first issue of the first American rock music magazine was printed on Sunday, January 30, 1966, in a basement in Brooklyn, New York, on the Qwertyuiop Press mimeograph belonging to and operated by Ted White, a science-fiction fan (and writer and editor). The date on the masthead was February 7, because the 17-year-old founder unreasonably intended it to be a weekly magazine, and he knew that magazines are usually dated according to the day they go off sale (one week after the on-sale date, in the case of a weekly).

I wrote everything in that first issue myself. The cover, typed and executed on Ted White’s typewriter, which had a cool, smaller-than-usual “micro-elite” typeface, featured a quote from a new British group, the Fortunes, talking to a London music paper after returning from their first US tour: “There is no musical paper scene out there like there is in England. The trades are strictly for the business side of the business and the only things left are the fan amazines that do mostly the ‘what colour sock my idol wears’ bit.”

On the inside of the cover was my first editorial, also typed (and written spontaneously) at Ted’s that Sunday night. It was called “Get Off of My Cloud!” after a recent hit by the Rolling Stones.

The other eight pages were record reviews, mostly of 45s I’d obtained by making a pest of myself at various record companies’ midtown New York offices. These were first-drafted in pencil and then typed up on mimeo stencils on David Hartwell’s typewriter. David was another friend I’d met through our mutual interest in science fiction. He was a grad student at Columbia that year. I slept on the floor of the room he was renting, and listened to records on his phonograph, during those four and a half days in New York City.

I’m still embarrassed by the fact that most of the reviews I wrote to fill the pages of those earliest issues of Crawdaddy! were concerned with whether or not this particular 45 would be a “hit.” Although my vision was of a magazine where young people could share with each other the powerful, life-changing experiences we were having listening to new music in the mid-1960s, I was heavily influenced by the trade magazines I was reading at the college radio station, Billboard and Cashbox; and since I didn’t have a way to get my new magazine into the hands of thousands of young music lovers immediately, my short-term focus was to get the attention of the radio station and record company people to whom I planned to mail complimentary copies of the first issue. And in truth I really was interested in whether a record would be a “hit” or not and whether that was something I could predict or influence. I had been fascinated by Top 40 artists since I was 10-years-old and impatiently bicycling to the record store every week on the day the local radio station’s new Top 40 handout sheet would be available. (“Where’s ‘Charlie Brown’ by the Coasters this week?”)

We printed 500 copies of that first issue, on light brown mimeographed paper (8 ½ by 11 inches, standard magazine size). I carried the sheets in a cardboard box on the subway back to David’s place, and assembled and stapled them (three staples down the left side). The first copies were mailed from New York (five cents apiece for first-class mail then) on Monday before I hitchhiked back to Swarthmore carrying the rest of the magazines, many of which I soon mailed to music business names from Billboard magazine’s annual directory. The total budget for the first issue, including postage, mimeograph stencils, paper, ink, 15-cent subway fares, peanut butter sandwiches, and the one album I bought and reviewed (Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence), was less than 40 dollars.

The most noteworthy response to the new magazine came later in the week when Paul Simon called me at the freshman dormitory to say that my review was the first “intelligent” thing that had been written about their music. Perhaps he also gently corrected my false idea that Garfunkel was the guitar player of the duo (I’d figured he had to be, since Simon wrote the songs and sang the leads). I was invited to meet them on my next trip to New York. They introduced me to their manager and brought me along to a concert and a radio interview.

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