Santa Feans probably know Peter Williams best as the silver-lamé-wearing, pompadour-sporting lead singer and guitarist of The Sticky, a get-down, dance-until-you-drop funk band with an Afrofuturist bent. They’ve been together since 2011, and they’re finally ready to release their first album.
The Sticky Live is nine tracks of classic funk — primarily protest songs, as well as one cut that sounds like The Black Crowes, Williams says. “We have a song called ‘Reaching Higher.’ There’s one called ‘Reclaiming My Time,’ that starts with a sample of [U.S. Congresswoman] Maxine Waters. There are a couple of songs that are really just about dancing.”
But if you want to hear the new stuff, you’re going to have to pay for it. Because Williams is broke. He hasn’t had a steady job in two years — not since Santa Fe University of Art and Design closed and suddenly there were no more music classes to teach. So, he doesn’t want you to stream the album for free on Spotify. And The Sticky isn’t playing any pandemic-era online concerts for which, he says, promoters pocket most of the revenue. He wants you to cut loose and get funky with them, but they’re sick of giving away their music for free.
“We’re kind of an expensive band,” Williams says of the 11-piece outfit. “Having that many people, it’s hard to get everybody paid.” Low-wage gigs in Santa Fe are something of a tradition, he says. People are expected to play for exposure, for tips, or for the sheer joy of being heard. Williams says that in the Santa Fe music scene, no line exists between hobbyists and true professionals, who should be getting paid at a higher rate. The Sticky, he says, are the latter.
“We don’t play like we’re a local band. We play like we should be on tour, headlining.”
Gigless in the City Different
Williams, 57, moved to Santa Fe from Dallas in the mid-1990s to study music at the now-defunct College of Santa Fe. He ended up teaching private lessons and ensembles there until that school closed in 2009, and then taught for another decade or so at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, until that institution bit the dust as well. He taught music lessons through The Candyman Strings & Things, but says he gave it up when he found himself doing more babysitting than teaching. Currently, most of his income is from odd jobs, handyman work, and teaching a few private students. He’d welcome more.
“I teach guitar, bass, drums, banjo. Slide guitar. All different styles.”
There are, obviously, no gigs for the foreseeable future. The Sticky has played numerous times on the Santa Fe Bandstand, but that annual summer series has folded, at least for this year. Festivals pay the best, say Williams and his band co-founder, Amy Elizah Lindquist, 52. But there are no festivals this year. The Sticky doesn’t really play in bars, though back when they first started, they had a regular Wednesday night show at a short-lived gay bar called Rouge Cat, on Marcy Street. And they’ve opened for some major acts, including Dumpstaphunk in 2017 and Ozomatli in 2018.
It remains to be seen when in-person concerts will resume and when The Sticky can genuinely regroup and think about the future. In the meantime, Williams and Lindquist have been brainstorming about the most effective ways to release their album. “Maybe we can do something in a parking lot,” Lindquist muses. “We’re a live band. Everyone in Santa Fe is in their own little pod, but my whole jam is people vibrating together. We’re going to have to figure out a way to come together.
“But,” she says, “we’re going to have to get paid. Musicians snatch at crumbs here, and those days are over. It’s time for Pete Williams to get his due in this town.”
Satan’s got talent
Jono Manson, who runs the Kitchen Sink Recording Studio, met Williams at the College of Santa Fe in the 1990s. “He was one of my students,” he says. “That’s not to say I taught him anything.”
Williams was in his 30s at the time and had been playing professional gigs since his teens. He went to college to deepen his skills and knowledge.
“He was light-years ahead of any of the other students,” Manson says. “I’ve never actually asked him about this, but I think he must’ve spent a lot of time playing along to records. He has an immense library of music inside of him across many styles. I once saw him learn to play a borrowed tuba in one week for a musical at the Greer Garson Theatre.”
Williams played in Manson’s band throughout the 1990s, and they’ve continued to work together over the years. They’ve toured together; they’ve recorded together; they’ve even been in a movie together — 1997’s The Postman, directed by Kevin Costner. “We’ve definitely had our differences,” Manson says. “He’s not always the easiest personality. But in the studio, he’s the quickest study I’ve ever worked with. The thing about Pete is that he’s a very deep person. A complicated person with a complicated past.”
Manson is gently underplaying certain harsh realities. As a kid, Williams took to playing music so naturally that his Pentecostal aunt believed his talent came from the devil. It’s not like he thinks it’s true, but he confesses that he wasn’t the most innocent of children.
“I discovered that girls like musicians at a really early age. Most of my older brothers were singers back then. I wanted to be like them. When they would perform in church, it would drive all the girls crazy.”
And he liked to start fires.
It started after his mother died of cervical cancer when he was 6 years old. More than 50 years later, he doesn’t have some elaborate psychological rationale for his behavior. “I was a little kleptomaniac [expletive],” he says. “And I started getting fascinated by fire. It was the ‘70s. There were a lot of fires that got started by …” he pauses. “Me. And then our house burned down in 1974, and everybody assumed that I did it. I didn’t really do it. It was accidental. We were living in this really [expletive] old house that had a wood stove in the middle of the living room. It was winter, and it was cold.”
Williams is one of 12 children and the seventh son. He moves around the map as he talks about the past. Sometimes he’s on a missile base in Wichita, Kansas, where he was born when his father was in the Air Force. And sometimes he’s in California, at his great-aunt’s house, where he lived for a few years after his mother died. That’s where he played the drums and was considered the devil, but then the family moved to Central Texas when he was 10, and he spent his adolescent and teen years in the Brazos Valley. There, he had a short-lived stint as a child Sunday School preacher. But things at home were getting rough.
After his father left the Air Force, he and Williams’ uncle ran what Williams describes as an illegal gambling house that included prostitution. By the time he was 11, he was staying out all night to sleep at friends’ houses without his dad’s permission. Going home meant working: “Making sandwiches for these card games that would last for three days. Changing the sheets. Stuff like that,” he says casually.
To keep him in line, Williams’ father sent him to the Waco State Home, which Williams recalls as something like a reform school. He says the place saved him.
“There was an attic in the administration building filled with old instruments. I was welcome to go in and dig around in there. I put together a drum set.” He’d already been playing for years, and soon he was giving lessons. “I started teaching my seventh-grade principal how to play. He would bring me over to his house and put on Who’s Next  or Frampton Comes Alive , and he would watch me play.”
Williams used music to rise above a difficult home life. Outside of the house, the biggest challenge to his happiness was racism.
‘He’s better than anyone in this town’
“I’ve been dealing with this [expletive] literally since I was a little kid,” Williams says. His tone is the equivalent of an eye-roll mixed with a frown.
“In Kansas, when I was in kindergarten, we still had to sit in the back of the bus. When we moved to California in the early ‘70s, that was when they first started busing to integrate the schools. Even though there was a school at the end of our street, they bused us from our neighborhood to this all-white school. When we got there, there was an angry mob of parents throwing rocks at our bus. We were just little kids, so we didn’t really understand what was going on. We just knew that they didn’t want us Black kids there.”
In Texas, he says, bigotry was a constant, especially among high school athletic coaches. In Santa Fe, where many people pride themselves on displays of tolerance, the flavor of racism is more subtle. “There’s this whole old-white-guy infatuation with the blues, for instance,” Williams says. “There are all these older white guys who think that just because they can play the blues, that that somehow makes them simpatico with Black men, or something like that. But to me, it seems like an infatuation. A lot of these dudes come up with fake names to try to sound Blacker.”
If this might seem like a narrow slice of Williams’ true feelings about being Black in Santa Fe, Williams’ close friend and collaborator Lindquist doesn’t hold back.
“The longer you know him, the deeper his talent goes. He’s better than anyone in this town, and people act like he’s a background player. He can play any instrument. There are people here that can’t play their instruments, but they hire him to play with them. And then they don’t pay him enough for making them sound legit.”
She recalls seeing Williams play at Evangelo’s Cocktail Lounge many years ago. She doesn’t remember what band he was with. “I think it was a band he had for one night,” she says. “And one thing to know about Pete is that he’s low-key in real life, but he comes alive onstage. He gets this bliss smile. That night, he hit a note and held it so long, I swear I wanted to run up and slap him.”
As for the long-awaited debut album, The Sticky Live Funk will be available on Aug. 15. For information and ongoing developments, go to the band’s website, thestickylivefunk.com. ◀