Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

Don Williams sandwiched college and a 33-year career as a postal worker between the real passion in his life, making music.

He's mostly a self-taught musician who makes life a little brighter several times a week for people who visit the Tuolumne County Senior Center or live in nursing homes.

He plays Tuesdays at the senior center, Mondays at Avalon Care Center's Alzheimer's unit, Fridays for Avalon Care Center's main population and Sundays at Lake Tulloch Bible Church in Copperopolis.

"I meet the nicest people at the Alzheimer's unit," he said. "I have two girlfriends there who think I'm the cat's pajamas. It's a lot of fun."

Williams, 73, plays an electric saxophone hooked up to a sound module that is programmed to sound like flute, trumpet and trombone.

"I used to play the tenor and alto saxophone and clarinet," he said. "It took all day to tune them after I got where I was going, and I couldn't control the volume. This is better, and I make my own backgrounds on a mini-disc, using a Yamaha keyboard."

Williams was born and raised in San Pedro, south of Los Angeles. He has been single all his life.

"I came close once, but I got cold feet and backed out," he said.

As a teenager, he joined a little band called Handsome Jim Balcom and the Shades of Rhythm. He didn't know to play, but Balcom wanted him in the band, so he found a used saxophone and another member of the band taught him to play it.

"We played rock and roll, '50s style," he said, "but we weren't very good at it. Sometimes it sounded like we were all playing different songs at the same time."

He said they played atdances, and a few times they got to play with nationally known groups such as the Platters and Impalas.

"That was big time back then. I stole some of their songs," he said.

After graduating from high school, Williams left music behind for many years, until he retired from the post office and moved to Copperopolis in 1991.

"I was sitting around and vegetating," he said, "so I started playing a little music. A lot of people put up with my re-learning. Music is a lot of fun, and it got me out of the house and away from the TV."

He started playing music at Lake Tulloch Bible Church shortly after moving to Copperopolis and still does.

"They just installed a new sound system," he said.

He and a friend, Barbara Cheney, started singing for a variety of events and venues. He played banjo, mandolin and guitar for background.

"It was a lot of fun," he said, "but then I had a stroke six years ago, and I couldn't sing anymore. In a way I was glad I had to quit, because we were going out every single day, and there was no time for me. It had become a job. Now, I just do it for the old folks homes, senior center and church. It's such a pleasure. I meet such wonderful people."

He enjoys a wide variety of musical styles, including classical, gospel, the big band sounds and all kinds of music from the 1930s, '40s, '50s and '60s.

"This time of year, I love playing Christmas music," he said.

He is also looking forward to playing at Copperopolis'27th annual First Wine Tasting of the Year on Jan. 12, featuring Calaveras County wineries at the historic armory at 695 Main St.

Williams sometimes has trouble speaking, as well as singing, but he said his problems seem insignificant compared to those of some of the residents he visits.

"I try to give them a little encouragement along the way, and I still have a lot of fun," he said.