Arguably the most-awarded artist in Christian music over the past year with one of the most successful debut albums in recent memory, Williams and his break-out song "Chain Breaker" have a story to tell about his life's journey. He comes to Zeeland April 22 for a concert.
"I grew up around music," recalled Williams, 37, during a recent phone interview. "My dad played (guitar) and led worship in church and I was there every Sunday and Wednesday."
"I knew all about Jesus and Scripture stories and had a head knowledge of him. I went forward at church camp and called myself a Christian but there was never a heart change."
The tall and athletic Williams was a promising basketball player back in his Arkansas hometown and had a good chance at a four-year college scholarship. But some bad choices - including trouble with drugs – contributed to his dropping out of high school.
He later was set to play at a junior college, but a serious injury ended Williams' competitive basketball career.
"While I was still in that freshman year, I taught myself to play my roommate's acoustic guitar and I fell in love with music." Soon Williams started to write songs using his new-found talent in his Southern rock-country-blues style.
A LIFE AND MUSIC CURVEBALL
Unfortunately, Williams also fell in love with drugs and alcohol. That love continued even as he put together a band and started playing gigs around the region and beyond.
"I started justifying it with the fact that I was gonna be a rockstar and that's what they did – this was gonna be my lifestyle," he admitted of his substance abuse. "And for the next 12 to 15 years of my life, I pretty much lived that way."
A booking agent placed them on several European tours. Yet when he was off the road he would return to Arkansas where he worked for his dad's construction company. He learned again that his parents never stopped praying for him.
Williams had been married for five years when his pregnant wife went to his parents and said Zach's lifestyle was getting out of control and she just couldn't handle it anymore. Off on another European tour, the artist realized he needed to make some changes or risk losing his wife and family.
It was during a long trip through Spain when his band's bus driver was scanning for radio stations. Over the air came the Big Daddy Weave song "Redeemed." The lyrics hit Williams like a lightning bolt.
"It was like God saying, 'Zach I see you different than you see yourself.' And I thought...wow, there's a way out of this."
Zach called his wife, came home, quit his band and the couple started going to church. "We gave our lives to the Lord, and were baptized the day before our little girl was born."
A NEW PATH
After a year, Williams was asked if he would lead worship at a new campus his church was starting. A couple years later he was filling in at a main campus service when a record producer-songwriter (Jonathan Smith) from Nashville happened to be in the congregation.
"He started emailing me the next day saying he wanted to hear my story," Zach recalled. "He said 'People don't sing like you unless they've got a story – I can feel and hear it in your voice.'"
That brought an invitation to Nashville for various songwriting sessions over the following months and recording "demos" of some songs.
There was talk about Williams and a band doing a Nashville showcase for record labels. But soon he signed with one of them based on the demos alone. They wanted to immediately release the song "Chain Breaker." It went to the top of Christian music charts for 15 weeks in 2016.
Follow-up songs "Old Church Choir" and the new "Fear Is A Liar" have also done very well.
And the awards have chased him – Grammy, Dove and Billboard honors all in the last year.
"I've really not had much time to reflect on everything – every day it's something new," he said. "But I can say without a doubt that it's been all God from the moment this started. For years I played music and tried to make it happen all on my own. But nothing happened until I turned my life over and allowed him to do what he does."
(See the concept video for the song "Chain Breaker" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd_xxmXdQz4)
Zach Williams and the Chain Breaker Spring Revival Tour -
with special guest Carrollton
6pm Sun. April 22, 2018 (doors open at 5:15pm)
at Community Reformed Church 10376 Felch St. Zeeland.
Tickets $18 general admission, gold circle $35, VIP passes $25 extra, available at https://www.itickets.com/events/392319 or phone 800-965-9324.