Victoria Williams

Off-beat country-folk singer Victoria Williams knows a good cause when she sees one.

The idiosyncratic artist, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and was the inspiration for an

all-star benefit LP, created the Sweet Relief Fund to assist other musicians with health

problems. WiIliams also helped put together a 1996 record-tribute to paralyzed

singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt.

Now, the squeaky-voiced Williams is focusing her attention on underprivileged children.

Last week in San Francisco, she joined singer/songwriter J.C. Hopkins and

multi-instrumentalist Jon Birdsong to perform at a "Toys For Tots" benefit. A day before,

Williams and friends played a free show in San Francisco's Amoeba Music record store

to benefit the same cause.

Williams was born 39 years ago today in Louisiana. She taught herself to play guitar as

a teen-ager, when she began to compose songs. Williams joined the G.W. Korners in

college and soon moved to California, where she performed at Los Angeles' famous

Troubadour nightclub. Williams also performed at Venice Beach, Calif., in the '80s and

had an unsuccessful recording deal for a short time.

Ex-Plimsoul Peter Case befriended Williams, and the two soon married and played

together in the Incredibly Strung Out band. In 1987, Williams released her first solo LP,

Happy Come Home, and shortly thereafter starred in a documentary by noted

filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker. After divorcing Case, Williams issued 1990's Swing the

Statue!

Two years later, while opening for Neil Young, Williams experienced numbness in her

hands, which hindered her guitar playing. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Having no health insurance, her medical bills grew out of control. Williams' manager

assembled such friends as Pearl Jam, the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum and Lou Reed to

cover her songs on the 1993 LP Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams. The

tribute album sold more than Williams' own albums and raised her profile in the rock

world.

The following year, Williams released Loose, which included duets with Soul

Asylum's David Pirner and the Jayhawks' Mark Olson (her new husband). She also

toured with the Jayhawks on a bill with Soul Asylum and Matthew Sweet. In 1995,

Williams and her band issued This Moment in Toronto, a live album that included

such standards as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

In January, she issued her most recent LP, Musings of a Creekdipper, which

featured Olson on a couple of songs. Williams toured to support the LP, which included

the track "Grandpa In The

Cornpatch" (RealAudio excerpt), and played several Lilith Fair dates in the

summer.

Other birthdays: Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), 58; Eugene Record

(Chi-Lites), 58; Luther Grosvenor (Spooky Tooth, Mott The Hoople), 49; Dave Murray

(Iron Maiden), 40; John Moore (Jesus and Mary Chain), 34; and Eddie Vedder (Pearl

Jam), 32.