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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Legendary Andre Williams


Biography

Multi-talented Zephire "Andre" Williams has worn many musical hats during his long career: recording artist, songwriter, producer, road manager, and so on. The Father of Rap was born November 1, 1936, in Chicago, IL, and was raised in a housing project by his mother, who died when Williams was six years old. Thereafter, Williams' aunts raised the precocious lad, who had already become quite the character. The R&B legend is best known for co-writing and producing "Twine Time" for Alvin Cash & the Crawlers, "Shake a Tailfeather" by the Five Dutones, and a greasy solo recording, "Bacon Fat," where Williams talked over a funky, crude rhythm.

A slick, street-smart, dapper Dan, music was one of Williams' hustles. He ventured to Detroit in his late teens and befriended Jack and Devora Brown, the owners of Fortune Records. He started singing with the Don Juans, a group in which the Browns titled their 45s according to who sang lead, something Gwen Gordy and Billy Davis later did with the Voicemasters. At Fortune, Williams became adept at putting songs together. To date he has more than 230 compositions registered with BMI. In 1956, Fortune issued seven singles by Williams, all but two co-billed with the Don Juans: "Going Down to Tia Juana," "It's All Over," "Bacon Fat," "Mean Jean," "Jail Bait," "The Greasy Chicken," and "Country Girl." "Bacon Fat" and "Jail Bait" were solo shots, the former got a boost from Epic Records, which took over the distribution when the demand got too great for Fortune to handle. Fortune also released "Ooh Ooh Those Eyes" by Don Lake & the Don Juans, and two by pianist Joe Weaver & the Don Juans, "Baby I Love You" and "Baby Child," in 1956. Little Eddie & the Don Juans recorded the first Don Juans record on Fortune, "This Is a Miracle" b/w "Calypso Beat," in 1955. Williams later sang with the Five Dollars, who released records on Fortune from 1956 to 1957, and were billed as Andre Williams & the Five Dollars on a 1960 release.

Doing his Fortune stint, Williams kept busy playing the popular clubs in Detroit and other locales, including the Flamingo Club in Memphis, TN. His biggest solo hit, "Bacon Fat," occurred during a drive to Memphis' Flamingo Club. When he got back to Detroit he persuaded Devora Brown to book a session. Fortune's recording studio was in the back room of a record shop the Browns owned. "Bacon Fat" was Williams' third single for Fortune; he didn't even have the lyrics written, but hurried and did so on a napkin while Devora busied herself setting up the studio mikes. Thank God for DJ Frantic Eddie Durham, who observed the session. He was the only one who understood what was going on. Everyone else, including Joe Weaver, thought Williams was wasting time and money with this talk-singing. Williams and Durham proved them wrong when "Bacon Fat" took off, becoming, with "The Wind" by Nolan Strong & the Diablos, Fortune's most popular record. Williams started talking instead of singing because he knew he couldn't compete vocally with Nolan Strong, Clyde McPhatter, Little Willie John, Jackie Wilson, and others. He created a new style that was later adapted by Harvey Fuqua ("Any Way You Wanna"), Jerry-O, Shorty Long, Bootsy Collins, and others.

After Fortune, Williams languished with Berry Gordy and Motown from 1961 to 1965. He signed as an artist, producer, and writer. His only 45, "Rosa Lee" b/w "Shoo Ooo," was scheduled for release on Gordy's short-lived Miracle label, but was never issued. Gina Parks, a friend from the Don Juans, enjoyed a couple more solo releases on Motown labels but none scored. Williams co-wrote Little Stevie Wonder's first record, "Thank You for Loving Me"; "Oh Little Boy What You Do to Me," the flip of Mary Wells' "My Guy"; an early Eddie Holland single, "It Cleopatra Took a Chance"; and "Mojo Hannah," recorded first by Henry Lumpkin, then Marvin Gaye (outside of Motown it's been remade by Tami Lynn, the Ideals, the Neville Brothers, and others).

His relationship with Berry Gordy was one of mutual respect, but stormy. He never conformed to Gordy's way of doing things, and the four years he spent at Motown weren't consecutive months. When Williams got under Gordy's skin, Gordy fired him; Williams would leave for a few months and produce a hit for someone on another label, and Gordywould invite him back. Williams was still associating with Motown when he masterminded "Shake a Tail Feather" for the Five Dutones and "Twine Time" for Alvin Cash & the Crawlers, on George Leaner's Onederful Records in Chicago. Williams cut a lot of tracks for the Contours; by his estimate he supervised at least two albums' worth of material on the wild, raucous, dancing group, but few were released. During this time Williams co-wrote "Girls Are Getting Prettier," a non-hit for Edwin Starr on Ric Tic Records. At one point, Williams was Starr's road manager.

By 1965, Williams left Motown for good to sign with Chicago's Chess Records and had a string of R&B releases including "The Stroke," "Girdle Up," "Humpin' Bumpin' & Thumpin'," and "Cadillac Jack." His legend grew. A nefarious character but a good entertainer, Williams wore lavender suits, and continued to entertain crowds at bucket-of-blood-type establishments. He produced and wrote for more acts than he remembers, including "The Funky Judge" by Bull & the Matadors on Toddlin' Town Records. A 18-month stint with Ike Turner led to Williams' hitting rock bottom; after the experience he returned to Chicago a full-blown street junkie and was on the verge of self-destruction for years. His biggest period as an artist came around 1960 when Fortune released the LP Jail Bait. He contributed to many sessions including Parliament, Jesse James, Funkadelic, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Spinners, Trey Lewd (George Clinton's son), and Amos Milburn. He produced tracks for Mary Wells when she left Motown for 20th Century Fox Records.

Williams now lives in Queens, NY, and is back active in the business of music. He performs at much better venues then he did during his Jail Bait years, and still dazzles audiences with his swagger and loud, pimpish wardrobe. He released more albums in the '90s than he did during the first 40 years of his career, including Silky and Directly from the Streets. The Black Godfather and Fat Back & Corn Liquor followed in 2000. He paired with the New Orleans Hellhounds for 2008's Can You Deal with It? on Bloodshot Records. For 2010's That's All I Need, also on Bloodshot Records, Williams worked with Detroit musicians, including members of the Dirtbombs, the Witches and the Volebeats as well as the Funk Brothers' Dennis Coffey.

Discography

  • 1990 Directly from the Streets
  • 1994 Mr. Rhythm Is Back
  • 1996 Mr. Rhythm
  • 1998 Silky
  • 1999 Hot As Hell
  • 1999 Red Dirt
  • 2000 The Black Godfather
  • 2000 Fat Back & Corn Liquor
  • 2001 Bait and Switch
  • 2003 Greasy
  • 2003 Holland Shuffle! / FLAC
  • 2005 Red Beans and Biscuits
  • 2006 Aphrodisiac
  • 2006 - Movin On Greasy and Explicit Soul Movers 1956-1970
  • 2008 Can You Deal with It?
  • 2008 - Rhythm & Blues!
  • 2010 That's All I Need
  • 2011 Mr. Rhythm Is Movin'!
  • 2011 The Joy of Christmas

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Andre hasn't lived in Queens in almost ten years. He's back in Chicago, and hasn't had a drink or drugs in over two years. Fortune released the Jailbait LP in 1983 not 1960! The Fortune 45's however were issued between 1955-59, the single of Jailbait came out in '58.

zand said...

The biography is taken from here http://www.allmusic.com/artist/andre-williams-p5830/biography

Peer Schouten said...

Hi! on which one can i find 'put a chain on it'? desperately looking for that song!

zand said...

Mr. Rhythm - 1996

Anonymous said...

Nice blog - but, Andre Williams was not born in Chicago. He was born in Bessemer, Alabama. When he appeared with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in Birmingham, he even confessed this to a friend of mine, quote: "I'm originally from Bessemer, but don't tell nobody!"

Go figure?

Anonymous said...

As always, much respect and appreciation for this great blog. Of course, verifiable info on Andre can be hard to come by and AMG makes do with what it can find. Still, in the interest of accuracy, it's worth noting that Andre has no involvement with any of Clinton's P-Funk output. The referenced Parliament, Funkadelic, RHCP and Trey Lewd recordings all feature Andre "Foxxe" Williams, a guitarist who is about 25 years Andre's junior. But in AMG's defense, they do share the same name...

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