Richard Williams was born in 1887 in Jonesville, Florida, about 12 miles west of Gainesville. By his early teens, Williams was playing dance music on the guitar for local parties held on neighboring farms in Alachua County and in area phosphate camps. It was in these camps that he learned songs from other parts of the state. His repertoire included localized folk blues, gospel songs and personalized versions of popular songs he picked up from work-camp jukeboxes.
Williams’s family members, including wife Lillie Bell and daughter Ella Mae Wilson, often accompanied him during informal musical gatherings at their house. Folklorists Peggy Bulger, Dwight DeVane and Brenda McCallum recorded a few of these gatherings between 1977 and 1980, yielding music that was eventually featured on a collection of traditional African-American music from around the state called Drop on Down in Florida. These field recordings capture Williams’ rural blues style, featuring finger-picking, alternating bass and free-floating semi-improvised song structures – all vestiges of Florida’s pre-blues folk forms.