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Pioneering Rock Journalist Paul Williams Dies at 64

As the founder of Crawdaddy!, Paul Williams launched the first magazine of serious writing about rock 'n' roll

Paul Williams, a pioneering music journalist who started the first magazine devoted to rock ’n’ roll criticism, died on Wednesday in Southern California. He was 64.

Williams was the founder of Crawdaddy! magazine and the author of more than two dozen books about music, popular culture and new-age philosophy. He died of complications related to Alzheimer’s, which came on after he suffered a brain injury in a 1995 bicycle accident.

Williams was a 17-year-old student at Swarthmore College when he launched Crawdaddy in 1966. At a time when the mainstream media looked askance at rock music and the only magazines devoted to the sound were teeny-bopper publications like Tiger Beat, Williams wrote in the first issue that his goal was “neither pinups nor news briefs” but “intelligent writing about pop music.”

“Paul was the first to write about rock music seriously,” singer-songwriter Mojo Nixon told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009, when he participated in a benefit to raise money for Williams’ medical expenses. “Most pop music was meaningless fluff, but Paul realized that something else was going on there.”

Crawdaddy!, whose early writers included Jon Landau and Richard Meltzer, predated Rolling Stone, which Jann Wenner launched in 1967 after meeting with Williams. Williams left Crawdaddy! in 1968, but relaunched it in 1993 as a subscription-only newsletter.

In addition to his work with the magazine, Williams wrote for a number of other publications, including Rolling Stone, for which he interviewed the seminal science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick  in 1974. Williams became friends with the author and served as the executor of Dick’s literary estate after the writer’s death in 1982.

Photo by Michael StipeHe also took on tasks as disparate as volunteer firefighter and campaign manager for Timothy Leary’s run for California governor.

Williams’ books include “Outlaw Blues,” “Das Energi,” and a number of works on Bob Dylan — including “Dylan — What Happened?” about the singer’s 1979 conversion to Christianity. After the book’s publication, Dylan’s office reportedly ordered 114 copies so the singer could give them to friends.

Williams suffered an accident riding his bicycle in 1995, and was hospitalized for a month with a brain injury. He recovered, but later began to show signs of dementia. His wife, singer-songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill, put him in a managed-care facility in Encinitas, Calif., in 2008.

On Sunday, three days before his death, a one-day celebration of Williams’ life was held at the Boo-Hooray Gallery in New York City, with music provided by Berryhill and Lenny Kaye.

According to a Facebook post by Berryhill, Williams died on Wednesday night in the company of his oldest son.