When we arrived at the Dallas Observer (not long after we landed in Dallas, period) one of the first albums we were given by the music editor at the time was Room 158, a disc by a band called Fugly. The name was horrible, but the music wasn't bad. The singer stood out the most, a young guy named Dave Williams. He was trying a little too hard to sound like Toadies front man Todd Lewis--since Rubberneck was still selling briskly, more than a few people were giving that a shot--but Williams was clearly made for better things. Though we never cared much for the better thing Williams went on to--singing for Drowning Pool--he did eventually make it.
Sinner, Drowning Pool's debut for Wind-up Records, sold more than a million copies since its release last year. "Bodies," the inescapable single from that album, was on more rock radio stations than bad Howard Stern impersonators, en route to becoming a virtual requirement for action-movie trailers and the theme song for Vince McMahon's WWE. The group appeared on the main stage during last year's Ozzfest and was doing the same this summer. Williams was the star many people thought he was destined to be when he was knocking around Deep Ellum in bands such as Cheri Lane and Mister Lovedog, the star he sounded like on that Fugly album. (Hear for yourself by heading to artists2.iuma.com/IUMA/Bands/Fugly/, where Williams' former band has MP3s available for download.)
"I guess we were holding Dave back," says Frank Smiley, who played guitar in Fugly and does the same now in Vibrosound. When Fugly broke up, he and Williams didn't leave as friends, Smiley explains, but the gap began to close over the years; Williams sent flowers when Smiley's father passed away in March, but Smiley never had the chance to thank him personally. "I thought that our friendship could rekindle. I was hoping so because Dave was a great friend. We spent many years together and had a few bands as well. We had a lot of good times. His dream finally came true, and I was proud of him. In Fugly we were rock stars for a week and a half. In Drowning Pool, who knows how long it could have lasted?"
Smiley won't be the only one wondering. On Sunday, more than 2,000 fans gave Williams a standing ovation at the Plano Centre, but he couldn't hear it. He was there, but not really: His bandmates found Williams dead in his bunk on August 14 when their tour bus pulled into a Holiday Inn in Manassas, Virginia. (At press time, the official cause of death had not been released, and toxicology tests were still pending.) He was 30 years old, but as some have pointed out, he was a leap-year baby (born February 29, 1972), so he sometimes acted more like he was around 7, always wanting to be the life of the party, in the middle of things, having a good time. The group had performed in Indianapolis the day before. They had no idea it would be their last show with Williams.
They did know they were coming up on their last show for a while. Drowning Pool had planned to take some time off after its summer dates with Ozzfest--which seems cursed this year, with founder Sharon Osbourne's bout with cancer and husband Ozzy's frequent cancellations--so the band could write and record a follow-up to Sinner, which now seems unlikely. Though Drowning Pool was a band before Williams joined, playing local clubs for a few years without ever really going anywhere, it's doubtful it'll be a band without him. He was, after all, the star. That's all he ever wanted to be.
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"When I was in middle school, the teacher made us all stand up and asked, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'" Williams said in one of his last interviews, with music Web site www.rockmonthly.net. "I said, 'I want to be a rock star.' Of course, everybody laughed and the teacher said, 'No, really, what do you want to be?' I said, 'I want to be a rock star!' So, I've always wanted this, and I think anything that comes with it is fine, ya know?"