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NEWS | Jan. 8, 2013

Mo'betta blues: Soldier's son sizzles as up-and-coming blues guitarist

By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

His fedora tilted over his eyes, 17-year-old William Ledbetter rolled through a series of bluesy arpeggios along the rosewood fretboard of his prized Gibson Les Paul guitar, his expression as fluid as the notes flowing from his fingertips. Upon bending the high-E string on the last note, he flashed a brilliant half-smile to his admiring parents, exhibiting his trademark coolness that complements his musical abilities.

William's talents recently earned him top honors at the U.S. Air Force's "You Got Talent" Nell Buckley Performing Arts Series competition, winning first place in the Teen Solo Instrumental Act category at Langley Air Force Base's community center.

The award is only the latest acknowledgment of William's abilities, and, per his ambitions, definitely not the last.

The young virtuoso's foray into music began at the tender age of 3, when he started toying with the piano. His mother, Tammi Haggins-Ledbetter, recalled his "little hands" not being able to reach the piano keys properly, and him having to wait until age 5 to pursue piano seriously.

William excelled at piano, taking lessons from teachers throughout his family's many moves with the U.S. Army, as his father, Army Lt. Col. William S. Ledbetter, serves as an engineering officer. However, as he grew older, William began to discover a wider array of music - and new musical instruments.

"William and a friend were both in a talent show, and his friend played a guitar solo. From there, all he kept saying was 'Mom, I want a guitar!,'" Tammi said. "I thought he was just being a copycat, but he was very persistent, so I bought him a kit."

William knew playing guitar was his calling when he heard the classic rock anthem "Back in Black" by AC/DC.

"That was the first song I had to learn how to play. I loved that song, man," he said. "Needless to say, my first attempts at playing it were awful. It was all choppy. It just didn't flow."

Undeterred, he turned to the internet, researching chords, tunings and scales to improve his skills. Slowly but surely, the notes began fitting together and flowing more seamlessly.

"When he was 14, he was a 4-H camp counselor. They have a contest called "Share the Fun." His father recommended it, but he chose guitar to play instead of piano," Tammi said. "I dreaded him playing play the AC/DC song, but instead he played a song he wrote himself - and it was absolutely beautiful. He won that competition."

Tammi watched William blossom into a showman, saddling up beside experienced guitar veterans at impromptu jam sessions at local music stores. He even coined a nickname for himself: "Mo'betta," artfully inked onto the pickguard of his beloved Les Paul.

Showmanship aside, William said his love of music drove him to play better, and to have confidence in his abilities.

"I just love music man, and guitar is where it's at. I was really into classic rock and '80s rock, a lot of Guns 'N' Roses, stuff like that. But in the past two years, I've delved into jazz and blues music," he said while noodling blues riffs on his Gibson. "I want to push the envelope of my abilities, because there's no end to music."

William's playing has taken him across the country to various workshops and music camps, including gigs in Los Angeles, Chicago and Memphis, Tenn. While music is most certainly his passion, William said he isn't sure he wants to make it a career.

"I'm still trying to make up my mind about what I want to do in life, but I'm leaning toward engineering," said William, who is considering attending Virginia Tech after graduating from Hampton's Kecoughtan High School. "I don't want to make music my career, because I don't want to take the fun out of it. But, you know, if it happens, it happens."

William credits his parents for his success in playing, as without their support, "none of it would've been possible." In addition to his mother's love and support, the family credits his father's practical military values as keeping William focused.

"I taught him 'the six Ps - prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance,' and he's done well by that," the elder William said. "Growing up in a military family has instilled the discipline and drive he needed to excel."

In tribute to his father, he uses a five eighths-inch steel deep-well socket as a slide, a trick recommended by his dad.

"I'll always use this socket as a slide. I remember the glass one I had didn't fit my finger. My dad recommended using this, and it just fit perfectly," he said. "My dad loves his tools, so it's my way of showing the love for my dad every time I play."

The admiration flows both ways. As much as music has kept William grounded and out of trouble, his spirit of success was something "he was born with."

"I tell people that this is my child, and of course I love him, but as a person, I really like him. He's a kind, calm child who doesn't go with the 'in-crowd,' doesn't give us a lick of trouble," Tammi said.
"It's not hard to support him in what he wants to do.

"He's just a good person," she added. "Music didn't make him that way though - he's always been that way."