By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
"Andre Williams? If he's still around, he's probably doing time." -- Keith Richards
Nobody in the last 50 years has worn more hats -- pimped-out Stetsons all -- than Andre Williams, a.k.a. the Black Godfather, Mr. Rhythm and the Father of Rap. In Detroit in the '50s and '60s, he recorded doo-wop and R&B simultaneously under three or four different names and worked as a producer for Berry Gordy at Motown, a role he later filled at Chess in Chicago and for Don Robey at Duke-Peacock here in Houston, among dozens of other labels in those cities as well as Memphis, Los Angeles and today, New York. His compositions and/or performances, such as "Twine Time," "Shake a Tail Feather" and "Bacon Fat," have been enshrined in the nation's R&B canon, his "Mojo Hannah" has become a New Orleans R&B staple, and his performance of "Jail Bait" was cited a few years ago by Keith Richards as one of his favorite records of all time. (And his spoken-word performance of the 1959 recording has led some to call it the first rap song ever. Williams himself demurs -- he says he spoke the words not to make an artistic statement but simply because he wasn't a good singer.)
Williams's early promise seemed to have fizzled when an 18-month stint collaborating with Ike Turner in 1971 turned, eventually, into many, many years of cocaine and crack addiction, years in which, as he put it, he "had to climb up just to get to the curb." And then, in 1996, he came roaring back with a collection of reworkings of some of his old classics. Two years later came Silky, the collaboration with Detroit underground rock legends Mick Collins and Dan Kroha that reintroduced this X-rated original gangsta of old-school R&B and proto-rap to a generation of punks and garage rockers. (That X-rating is no joke -- the cover features Williams grabbing a woman's bare ass, and song titles include "Bonin'," "Let Me Put It In" and "Pussy Stank.") Later, Williams released Red Dirt, a similarly raunchy C&W album with Canadian psychedelic alt-country maestros the Sadies, performed with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion at a series of nasty and ear-annihilatingly loud shows, and has released a trio of albums for Norton.
Today, the nattily attired Williams -- whose suits could put those of Fillmore Slim and Don Magic Juan to shame -- seems like nothing so much as the living link between Cab Calloway and early Ice-T, equal parts musicmaker and hustler, pimp and entertainer, poet and comedian. The recent convert to Judaism -- who underwent a bris while awake and in his sixties -- is also something of a sage, so I talked to the man and scoured out a half-dozen long interviews and sought to craft from them an anthology of the Wit and Wisdom of Andre Williams, the OG of R&B. (In addition to the quotes from my own, the other original interviews can be found at furious.com, ugly-things.com, franmagazine.com, cosmik.com and nardwuar.com.)
On dressing well: "My father always said, 'Always wear a shirt and tie.' So if you get up tight and have to ask somebody for something, they'll give you what you look like. If you look like a bum, you're gonna get a dime. And if you're dressed, they're gonna give you more. So I've always been a shirt-and-tie man because you never know who you're gonna bump into. You know once you step out in the streets you're steppin' on a stage. You understand?"
On honesty: (Speaking about the release of his song "Let Me Put It In.") "Here's how I feel, it's the most honest record this year. I look at you and I get to talkin' 'bout the dick and the pussy and you know what it is, so we ain't talkin' 'bout nothin' new. Let's get real here! Mormons do it too, or there wouldn't be no little baby Mormons!"
On his bad reputation:"Get off my back about the language; I'm trying to tell a story. Dig the theme. We can't all go on the expressway. Sometimes some of us got to take the low road."
On individuality:"I didn't wanna sound like no-goddamn-body! I wanted to tell stories! I had seen so much bullshit in my life and I said to myself, 'Andre, if you could ever say things that relate to people...' I'll tell you somethin', fellows, the first line of communications was the drums. That was in Africa, the Congos, the Mongos, and all them 'gos. When they was doin' communications, it was with the drums. So if I could get a drum rhythm which captivates people and put a hell of a story on top of it, I can't lose."
On persistence:"Don't give up! Take no as if you're putting salt and pepper on some eggs. 'No' is not poison. If somebody tell you no, it don't mean diddly, because there's another door, y'understand? And don't ever be scared of your creation, that's the main thing; that's the point I'd like to give to any struggling artist."