2005_10_leonwilliams.gifAge, occupation, where are you from, where are you now?
46 and counting. I’m a courier. Born and raised in New York—from Spanish Harlem, now I’m in the Bronx. If I get a hit record, I’m going to move out to Hawaii.

How long have you been playing?
I’ve been playing over 20 years, but I’ve only been playing in the subways since about March. A little weekend fun, out here playing in front of people. I find it stimulating. I appreciate people for whatever they give me, because they don’t have to give anything. Some days it’s good, some days, not so much. You get fluctuations of crowds. Some crowds stop and watch, say you sound good. Others just go by. It’s all good practice. Now I’m ready to play Giants Stadium, crowds don’t bother me anymore.

How’d you learn to play behind your head?
One day I just tried it. I used to play in the dark. Jose Feliciano, Stevie Wonder—these guys can’t see. I don’t really have to watch what I’m doing. It’s kind of easy to me, but some guitar players need to see what they’re doing. So I just tried it behind my back, and said “Damn, this can work.” A lot of people down here are impressed by that. Some people think I’m faking it, it’s amazing. One guy came up and said, “You tape that shit.” Another couple comes by, says the same thing. So I said, I’ll you what, for a small donation, I’ll do it again. So I proved them wrong, and they apologized. Think I’m doing a Milli Vanilli up here.

Where did you train, or are you self-taught?
Basically self-taught.

Do you play any other instruments?
Not any more. I used to play a little sax, a little harmonica, a little flute. Mainly guitar. This here is a Squire strat.

Have you played in any bands?
Years back, I was in some bands, but nothing serious. I keep on moving, keep on playing.

Where’s the best subway stop to play?
This is the only one I play. You really need a license from Music Under New York. I have to go to the next round of auditions to get licensed. My setup is pretty good here, because you get a good echo. I need better amps, better equipment.

Best place you’ve played? Best crowd?
About 13 years ago, I played the Apollo Theater and got booed off. It didn’t bother me. it was a song tong that I wrote, and I only sang a little verse while I played. Everybody asked me why did I sing. I went right before a comedian that the crowd booed off, so the crowd was ready for that. But you know what? Luther Vandross went to the Apollo four times, got booed four times. Never won.

Were you worried at all about this week’s subway terror threat?
I try not to think about it. Because what can you actually do? You get up every day, and hopefully you get home every day, and that’s all you can ask. Every day is a challenge for everybody.

You spend a lot of time standing in the subway, what’ve you seen down here?
There was one guy that sat down and watched me play. He had a long tube or something in his pocket. I’m sitting there playing guitar with my eyes closed, and when I open them, the cops are right in my face. When you close your eyes, you don’t expect to see anyone right there when you open. They told me to turn it down and asked about the guy. They thought he had a gun. They were watching him. Made him empty his pockets, right here.

What venue would you like to play?
The Beacon Theater. Maybe the Garden. The crowds don’t bother me. If you want to master something, you can’t be afraid of playing in front of people, and that’s many performers’ biggest fear. Doing the subway thing is so raw, so open. I’m ready.

Who are your favorite guitarists?
Santana was one of my favorites. I love George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Al B. King. I like him better than BB King. My man Stevie Ray Vaughn. Someone’s told me I sound like a cross between Santana and Benson. Well, I’m trying to get my own style. My fingers go where they go and that’s it.

Best place to see live music?
Out on Long Island, at the Westbuy Music Fair. Revolving stage, and the acoustics are real nice out there. Nice and small, comfortable.

Any advice for Mayor Bloomberg?
He has a good life. Bloomberg, Gates, Trump—these guys have beautiful lives. But it seems to me like he really tries. He does what he can for the city. I wish him all the best. He’s a guy that has so much money he doesn’t have to do anything. He can stay in bed for the next 30 years. But he’s out there trying, and I think he’s doing a good job.