By George Douglas Lee
William Newby IV is a genuine blues man. Most people in the Galveston area know him as Trinity. He’s been playing his distinctive brand of blues for nearly twenty years and has been a fixture in the Galveston music scene since he moved here from Houston in the late nineties and began attending open mics at various venues on the Island.
“Í was a Pennsylvania boy from Sharon,” says Trinity. “All my family – my father, his brother, my uncles – used to have a music band. They practiced all the time; sometimes at our house, sometimes at the others. Sharon, Pennsylvania, my hometown, is about ninety miles north of Pittsburg, and twenty miles from Youngstown, Ohio. When I was about seven or eight, I became interested in music and started playing with my relatives. I would practice in the closet, where they kept a bass fiddle. Nobody knew I was in there learning the songs until one day at practice I asked to join in with them. So my first instrument I learned was bass. I would pull on my uncle’s coat, and ask him ‘when you gonna teach me to play?’
A few years later, the family was watching television and Trinity’s uncle asked all the kids what they were going to do with themselves once they finished high school. It was snowing outside as they watched the tube and all the other kids said they would stay in Pennsylvania and follow in their family’s footsteps.
That is except Trinity as he pointed at the TV and said, “I’m going there when I graduate.” His uncle asked why he was pointing to Texas and choosing it as his destination. “Because it don’t snow and it’s warm,” said the boy. “It’s the same temperature there as here, but we have snow and they don’t. That’s where I’m going!”
Trinity did move to Texas and settled in Houston, where he became a bouncer at one of the clubs, and worked for Pace Concerts, setting up and tearing down shows. He got to see a lot of famous, prominent artists. And, he continued to play music, sitting in at various clubs.
After a few years, he decided to go even further south to Galveston. “The way things were going in Houston,” he said, “I didn’t want to become a statistic. Based on his experience here on the Island and in the Houston area, playing with so many different musicians, I asked Trinity his opinion about the local music scene.
“I was always trying to get back to the music. There are so many people up there,” observes Trinity. “That was during the span when bands and clubs were everywhere. That was when Moby and 97 Rock and K101, clubs were everywhere, like Damians, and the Plantation. But when they lost control of the city, I had to go, so when I got to Galveston, I went down to the Strand Street Saloon. I was trying to switch from bass to guitar.”
“The music scene has diminished quite a bit since I moved here 20 years ago,” he says wistfully. “In the seventies and eighties, it was booming. Now, they don’t want to pay anybody. They want to smile at you, but the open mic is the catch. Stop going to open mics if you want to get paid. Why should they pay when they can get you at the jams to do it for free?”
How does Trinity describe what he does? His music? It’s an extremely unique sound, genuine stream-of-consciousness blues from a man who has lived it. Soul. He closes his eyes and starts wailing, sitting atop his vintage amp and playing his Les Paul with his thumb, chords few might recognize. Like his lyrics, the chords he plays come from within rather than music books or theory.
“When I stop trying to be proper, to do the ‘correct’ chords, progressions, arpeggios, scales and so forth,” says Trinity, “and just let it flow out of me, that’s when I do my best music!”
He cites Jeff Beck, John Mayall, Alvin Lee – the legendary British blues players – as his primary influences. He also praises Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Willie Dixon, the source of the blues.
He quotes his English blues heroes, “‘It’s your music. All we did was add distortion. We come back and play it, now you like it. Those are old blues cats.’ That’s what my music is!” adds Trinity.
Trinity has definite ideas and a historical perspective on his brand of music.
“Blues is the foundation,” he continues. “If you’re a blues musician, a country man can play with you. Same with rock and roll, jazz, and gospel. A blues man, in his time and his day, wasn’t allowed to go to school, to congregate, and get together unless it was at church. They couldn’t read or write, so this is the way a black man told his history. They’re speaking to you about things that were going on in their lives.”
“I was the last person to play at the Balinese Room before it blew away. Everything I had, all my musical equipment, was in the back room of that bar, and I lost it all. When the storm hit, I didn’t have a way to move my stuff. It took me a long time to get things back together.”
Unlike all the attention New Orleans musicians received after Katrina, Galveston musicians had to get things back together on their own – often on limited resources. Trinity, against the odds, did get things back together.
During this time, Trinity suffered through a series of knee operations that failed. The knee joint was replaced. It failed. It was replaced again. Failure. At one point, the doctors simply filled the damaged joint with cement without a replacement while waiting to do it again.
Meanwhile, Trinity continued to play at open mics, pick up gigs with musician friends wherever he could, pursuing his elusive goal of fronting a blues band performing his trademark songs. He could be seen on foot, with his bad knee, walking up 21st Street to the former Bobbie’s House of Spirits, or Rosie’s, carrying his guitar and amplifier, trudging along till he could set up and play.
Determination has never been a problem for this man. Finding venues and willing musicians has been the challenge.
But he has persevered. Trinity’s stream of consciousness blues works, won second in Austin’s 2015 International Blues competition. Proud of that achievement, he plans to continue the momentum appearing as a featured act in Austin’s Blues competition and recording a CD.
He’s often talked about opening his own place, serving up blues and barbecue – in downtown Galveston. Let’s make that dream a reality.