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by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

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Features reporter Jeff Wilkin on pop culture
 

Good Old Ernie!

By Jeff Wilkin
Thursday, March 22, 2012

I didn’t really know Ernie Williams.

The Capital Region’s most famous musician passed away Wednesday night at age 87. I did a “Question-and-Answer” interview with Ernie in 2009, and we had a jolly time talking about his passion for fishing, gardening, grilling ribs outside and watching horses at Saratoga Race Course.

I remember setting up the interview with Ernie, and was kind of amused when I called — it seemed that he had forgotten about our telephone appointment. Think he was kind of amused, too. He was an energetic interview subject, and laughed his way through much of our 20-minute session.

I caught another one of Ernie’s sessions a couple years earlier, at the Van Dyck in Schenectady. Ernie and his guys were playing, and I was at the bar with a few friends and a few beers. They’re the same thing, really.

While some of our guys left, think a couple more stayed behind. And I walked out of the joint alone.

I was surprised to see the tall, kind of lanky Ernie standing on the steps outside the front door. He was all by himself, I think he was having a smoke during a set break. We’re paid to talk in this business, and a beer or two always make me a bit more chatty. So I stopped to say hello to Ernie, and told him he and his guys sounded pretty terrific.

Ernie thanked me for the compliment. I remember he was very gracious. Then I noticed he had a bunch of ornamental pins on — not sure if they were on his vest or his hat — but he was wearing bunches of metal.

This was probably five or six years ago, and during the time when the old Gazette was handing out these collar pins. They were small, rectangular-shaped pins with metal gold-colored trim and “Gazette” in gold letters on a black background. Made us all look like we were part of a secret spy organization.

I had one on that night, and mentioned Ernie’s collection of pins. As I was wearing one on my collar that night — and my shift with the spy organization was over — I took the thing off and offered it to Mr. Williams for his collection. Again, he was very gracious, and accepted the gift.

He might have been thinking, “Gosh, not another one!” but I don’t think so. As I walked away from the Van Dyck and looked back, I saw Ernie closely inspecting the pin on the front steps of the restaurant.

I suppose Ernie’s family will look through Ernie’s possessions during the next weeks or months. If they find that pin, they might wonder how Mr. Williams ever joined The Gazette.

Now they’ll know.

 
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