Singer-songwriter/ASCAP president Paul Williams isn't quite the household name he was at the peak of his career, decades ago, when he was a fixture on late-night TV and was busy getting nominated for - and winning - Academy Awards for soundtrack work on songs like "Evergreen."
At a South By Southwest conversation with Stephen Kessler, who directed the new documentary about Williams, "Still Alive," the songwriter was candid and funny as he shared anecdotes and songs from his entire repertoire, helped along by longtime collaborator and bandleader Chris Caswell, who played keyboards through most of the panel.
Williams touched on much of his best-known work, telling stories about his first meeting with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson to discuss writing songs for the remake of "A Star Is Born" - a meeting he entered into with perhaps too much confidence. "They looked at me like, 'Who is this gnome with all these ideas?' " he said. When they asked him to leave the room so they could talk in confidence, he wasn't shaken: "I went outside and drank white wine and ate Macadamia nuts!"
Williams sang many of his songs, including "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday," from The Muppet Movie, which he played at the expense of one of his best-known songs, "Rainbow Connection."
Still, he explained why, telling a story of a meeting with Jim Henson where he first played him the song - which led to Henson writing it into the iconic state fair scene where it plays in the movie. "There was never a moment with Jim Henson where he said 'write for children,' " Williams said. "I don't write for gender, and I don't write for age. That part of the business I learned from Jim Henson."
Also surprising - and glossed over - was Williams' passing statement that he's working right now with French techno duo Daft Punk on new material. After playing through other highlights of his career (including the theme from "Love Boat," a song that he says paid his kids' way through private school) Williams concluded with the theme song for the new film about his life.
"The dreamer's still alive," he crooned - completely convincingly.