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Not every spam is spread thick with sleazy motives

April 6, 2002

When you get spammed, it is too easy to get angry and irritated, curse the sender and file a complaint. One mail can become the proverbial last straw.

But behind each of the million spams in this cybercity there is a story that might not be exactly what you expect. I recently received an e-mail from Kim Wilson, lead singer for the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

It was a bit of a surprise to receive this personal note from him, as we've only met once. A few years ago in Las Vegas, he bumped into me after a show and politely excused himself. Nice guy, I thought then.

Now, however, it seemed strange Wilson would write me. Did we exchange business cards? I forget. But he was writing me about a friend of his, a soulful Tulsa-based guitarist/songwriter named Jerry Lynn Williams.

I'd never heard of this guy, but Wilson said his music was "life changing." It was all I could do to go directly to the supplied link ( and order Williams' albums for $20 each ($30 signed).

Wilson wrote: "These CDs that Jerry Lynn Williams is making available to you by the Internet only are guaranteed to take you back to an era when music was real, and a true source of inspiration!"

Williams visualized massive sales when he bought a 60,000-name mailing list, solicited Wilson to write a letter and sent it out en masse.

He was expecting a response rate of about 2 percent, the standard rule for junk mail, which would expand his audience. "These albums are great and deserve to be heard," he said with typical artist pride. "They are as good as anything else out there today."

So it was a big disappointment when only about 100 people bought the CD as a result of the mass mailing. Perplexed at first, Williams now has some clue as to why it didn't work.

"I was just looking for a way to sell my music," he said. "This was just a random list of all kinds of people, doctors and lawyers and accountants. This seemed to me to be a good marketing plan."

Up to here we haven't used the "s" word. Williams may have learned how to play guitar from Jimi Hendrix, but he is pretty naive when it comes to technology.

He does not write the code for his own Web site. Spam always prompted a grimace, but only because it was lousy on a barbecue. "I'm not a technical guy," he said. "My job is to write songs."

It was then disturbing when Williams received messages from his Internet-service provider saying there were "several complaints" and he was told to cease and desist. "It turned out that it was like one guy who complained five times," he said. "I mean, get a life."

He was then told these complaints were "far less than what some people get" and that he should continue his campaign. But he opted out. "I didn't want to spend so much time and effort doing something that was causing me trouble," he said. "We only sent out one message, and that was it."

Jerry Williams is a well-intentioned guy out to spread the word about himself any way he can. Much of the unsolicited e-mail you receive comes from people who seek to deceive, hypnotize or hoodwink. But some others come from enterprising souls like Williams who are still learning the rules.

by Charles Bermant. Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company


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