Andre Williams

TrackSingle / Album
Going Down To Tia JuanaFortune 824
Bacon FatFortune 831 / Epic 5-9196
Jail BaitFortune 837
Please Pass The BiscuitsFortune 839
Hey! Country GirlFortune 842
(Georgia May Is) Movin'Fortune 851
Jail House BluesFortune 856
I Still Love YouFortune 856
Is It True?various Fortune comps inc. Mr Rhythm
Cadillac JackChecker 1205

Andre Williams photo

 

 

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Andre Williams playlist

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

I can’t remember when I picked up the Sir Douglas Quintet’s version of Bacon Fat but it was in the HMV store just east of Oxford Circus, so that narrows it down to when I was working in Centre Point. It was on a Best-of, or something-of compilation CD of Sir Doug & the boys from the early days on Huey Meaux’s Tribe label. When I got home, I do recall being singularly unimpressed by the track almost to the extent of feeling that it lowered the quality of the overall set. However, that track grew on me, slowly but certainly surely. This was pre-serious internet days so I couldn’t dig into the original, that’s if there was such a thing (and I hadn’t a clue).

Eventually I did find that original. It was credited to ‘Andre Williams And His New Group’ and it appeared on both the Fortune and the Epic labels; I later discovered that the original source version was cut for Fortune but the latter did a distribution deal with Epic, a subsidiary of Columbia.

Fortune operated out of Detroit but, unlike a certain other label which is indelibly associated with that city, you’re highly unlikely to have heard of it. In an article appearing in the online Detroit Metro Times in 2007, writer Michael Hurtt provided a vivid description of Fortune:

“Founded in 1946 by Jack and Dorothy “Devora” Brown, Fortune’s aesthetic was notoriously crude, its artists exotically named, its promotion the trunk of Jack’s car. Earthy, spontaneous and often downright bizarre, if Motown was the spiffy Sound Of Young America, Fortune was the Sound of Down and Dirty. The atmosphere reeked of chaos and creativity, producing one-of-a-kind discs like Andre Williams’ twisted, hip Bacon Fat and Nolan Strong’s genre-defying Mind Over Matter.”

A blast of the record seemed overdue, epitomising as it did, from that lazy sax onwards, the down and dirty approach of Fortune. You could throw a few other adjectives in there too, like greasy, raw and sleazy and they wouldn’t be inappropriate. Check out that record again. Indeed, savour it since this is the slab of vinyl that’s caused some people to refer to Williams as a legend; nothing else from him, before or after came anywhere close. It did get some recognition at the time with a #9 Billboard R&B Chart-showing in 1957 but the best he could achieve in later years was a solitary low-end Top Fifty appearance in the same chart in 1968 (and later, a couple way down in the nineties in the Hot 100).

The story of Andre Williams at Fortune is intertwined with the story of the vocal group, the 5 Dollars (though you have to look pretty hard to find any credit to the pecuniary quintet on Andre’s records). Marv Goldberg via his R&B Notebooks series is the man who’s come up with the best blow-by-blow history of the 5 Dollars which actually nests within it a link to a lengthy letter from Andre which repudiates much of the Goldberg story (making the term blow-by-blow even more appropriate). Such repudiation includes a claim that Andre was a member of the group from its inception, that he alone wrote Bacon Fat rather than it being a group process (as were many of the songs on the Fortune Andre Williams records but they also got credited solely to Williams) and a denial that he (Andre) had been “sneaking around” with the group’s manager’s wife which caused them to lose said manager in an acrimonious split. Given (a) that Marv’s sources were two members of the original group that became the 5 Dollars plus one member of Williams’ ‘other’ backing group christened ‘The New Group’, (b) that two of those sources took to print with rebuttals to the ‘alternate version’ contained in the letter, and (c) that Williams prided himself on being a hustler who would have been only too keen to build his own mythology, I’m more inclined to believe the original Goldberg version of the story even if it does, particularly via such things as visible composer credit, differ from perceived history.

The 5 Dollars started off in late 1953 as the Shamrocks (who became the Del-Torros) from the area of Gratiot Street in Detroit. According to Marv, that’s the street “which separates the East Side of Detroit from its Lower East Side”. The founder members of the group were Eddie Hurt, Lonnie Heard, James Drayton and Charles Evans. Heard and Evans were the two 5 Dollars contributors to Marv’s piece. The group became the 5 Dollars after a trip to Chicago for an audition with Chess Records (or Vee Jay according to Williams). The audition was unsuccessful but a member of the Spaniels heard them, was impressed with their sound and suggested the name “The 5 Dollars” to them. Which they liked but it needed a fifth member so they recruited neighbourhood friend, Richard Lawrence.

In ’55 the group auditioned again, at “the garage-like Fortune Studios” (Marv’s words) in Linwood, Detroit and were successful this time. The signing of the 5 Dollars was announced in August at the same time as that of Andre Williams. Williams happened to be the brother-in-law of Eddie Hurt though in the group’s version of events that would be coincidental. What wasn’t coincidental was that the 5 Dollars debut single, Doctor Baby c/w Harmony Of Love was released that same month. The A-side was nothing remarkable: medium tempo doo wop with a pronounced beat but Harmony Of Love was most unusual, comprising a wordless concoction built only of doowoppy utterances replacing both the lyrics and the backing band – there was some percussion but it sounds as if it was just someone beating out a latin rhythm using hands against a cardboard box or something like that. The track might have been a result of the unconventional approach that Devora Brown took to recording – she would switch the recorder on as soon as artists/musicians arrived in the studio hence capturing everything that went on including rehearsal, fooling around, etc. This was reported by Marv’s sources in regard to the 5 Dollars but presumably it was applicable to other Fortune sessions too. Whether it was this that produced the rather marvellous Harmony Of Love hasn’t been stated but it would seem likely (and also illustrates a degree of adventure by Ms Brown).

A little bit of (unfortunately blurry) back story on Andre is pertinent at this juncture since he’s about to take a major role in the narrative. He was born Zephire Andre Williams on 1st November 1936 in Bessemer, Alabama and lived with his mother there until she died when Andre was only 6 years old. After that, things get hazy: either he was brought up by various ‘aunties’ and then moved to Detroit, Michigan at the age of 16 and became friends with Jack and Devora Brown (Wiki) or “his father moved him back and forth from Alabama to Chicago” and “after a military stint, he landed in Detroit, where he helped to form the legendary Five Dollars” (both of which come from DallasObserver.com but sound as if they could have originated with Andre himself). The military reference chimes with a statement in the Goldberg article: “At the time he was introduced to the rest of the 5 Dollars, he claimed to be on leave from the Navy (actually he’d been AWOL for about six months).”

The Browns with Devora in the lead, a position which it sounds like she was used to, assembled Andre as potential lead vocal and the 5 Dollars as backing group in the studio for a session circa September/October 1955. According to Charles Evans in the Goldberg article, “Devora just stuck him up front” although in words that followed from Evans, “he couldn’t hold a tune” which is self-evidently why so many of his records feature him talking his way through songs rather than singing. Hence rap might have been invented accidentally rather than purposefully.

The record which emerged from the session, Going Down To Tia Juana / Pulling Time (the A-side of which I’ll come to in a moment) was credited to ‘Andre Williams (Mr. Rhythm) With The Don Juans’ with ‘Andre Williams’ on the composer line for both, even though the Goldberg article states that the A-side was “a tune which the 5 Dollars had been working on”. And the name ‘The Don Juans’ was just something that Devora conjured up out of the blue.

This was to be broadly the pattern that then ensued. Fortune used the 5 Dollars as vocal backing group behind other singers all using the strap line ‘With The Don Juans’ but curiously didn’t use the Don Juans name for releases from the 5 Dollars themselves. I said “broadly” but as the reader will have already decided, nothing was straightforward with Fortune Records. Even though the 5 Dollars, along with Andre, had worked on the creation of Bacon Fat before its release, when that event happened, the artist line shown was ‘Andre Williams And His New Group’. And yes, it was a real new group notwithstanding that involvement from the Dollars. As a final touch, several of the Williams Fortune records had the credit ‘Andre Williams with Gino Parks’. Parks/Purifoy was a friend of Williams and a member of the ‘New Group’.

Enough, enough, enough! I hear you say. One point is worth adding which might help to explain some of those shenanigans. Although he’d had minimal previous experience, Williams turned out to be a very accomplished front man in terms of stage movement/working an audience and in that role, contrasted strongly with the wooden Dollars; those are my words but it’s the gist of what Evans says in the Goldberg article.

 

On to the music and a warning that almost all of my selections are from Andre’s Fortune phase:

Going Down To Tia Juana (1955) opens with a latin beat in order to get those feet moving – chorus switches to straight up 4/4 rhythm fronted by the chanting of repeated word “Down” – one wonders whether the 5 Dollars who lay claim to putting this one together, had heard B.B. King’s Woke Up This Morning from a couple of years earlier which featured similar switching between latin and 4/4 (and was a Top Ten R&B Chart hit and was/is a Stephens favourite from The King’s repertoire) – apart from the chorus this song is actually sung by Andre though it doesn’t quite call for Andrea Bocelli level skills.

Bacon Fat (1956) – actually titled “Didlee, Didlee Womp, Womp (Bacon Fat)” on its initial outing on Fortune but trimmed back on the Epic release – intriguing rhythm which again has latin overtones but is so laid back that those Didlee Didlee guys are almost snoring – Andre unveils his conversational style for the first time and proffers encouragement to the sax man interspersed with random “Have Mercys” – “Say man, we’re glad to see you back, we got a new dance they call the Bacon Fat”.

But it’s not just the proto-rap that makes this record, it’s every component, particularly the “Didlee didlee didlee didlee womp womp ah-ah-ah womp womp” – such a pastiche of doo wop might well have one grinding one’s teeth in horror but it doesn’t, it’s all part of the package – as indeed is the multiple entendre, something that would feature heavily in Andre’s second career.

Just Want A Little Lovin’ (1957) – if Going Down To Tia Juana had gently prompted thoughts of Woke Up This Morning from the Blues Boy then this one chucked gentleness into the bushes – compare the singing of the opening phrase “I don’t wanna misuse you” to Muddy Waters’ “I don’t want you to be no slave” in his I Just Want To Make Love To You – yes the words are slightly different but it’s the same song – what is so remarkable though (apart from the fact Fortune/Andre never got sued by Chess to the best of my knowledge) is how the studio guys actually manage to sound like a Chicago blues band on this one (and for those who only know the song from the Etta James version, that came later i.e. after Muddy and Andre).

You Are My Sunshine (1957) – what differentiates this from other versions of the old warhorse is the repeat lines/phrases in the closing stanza of the verse – the call & response (via Gino Purifoy) plus the handclapping suggest that Andre, the new group and/or Devora had been listening to a certain Mr. Charles and why not indeed – another to add to my collection of fine versions of the number (though it didn’t quite make the Ten).

Jail Bait (1957) – initially a lecture on the dangers of jail bait – “For goodness sake / 15, 16, 17, that’s jail bait” – in Andre’s now familiar conversational style – accompanied by a sax, rhythm section and not much more – but turns into something considerably more personal – “Please, Mister Judge / If you just let me go this time / I won’t mess with them young girls no more”.

According to Miriam Linna – see footnote on “Mind Over Matter: The Myths And Mysteries Of Detroit’s Fortune Records” – Jail Bait “is Keith Richards’s favorite Fortune record”.

The Greasy Chicken (1957) – more of the rap approach with plenty of scope for cock-a-doodling – more too of the double entendre-cum-dance disc subject matter – once again Purifoy is present rather than the rest of the new group – makes Bacon Fat sound subtle in comparison and it’s a disc that just couldn’t see release these days.

Please Pass The Biscuits (1958) – could I really ignore a record that lyrically requested that the biscuits be passed even if such requesting turned into agony? Deep soul maybe?

Hey Country Girl (1958) – it’s back to singing for this rather nice little chugger and it might be back to the Don Juans/5 Dollars – the A-side (this is a flip) credits ‘Andre Williams (Mr. Rhythm) With The Don Juans’ but turn it over and you get only, ‘Andre Williams (Mr. Rhythm)’ – but there is a doo wop group present and according to Marv, Andre didn’t go back to recording with the 5 Dollars after he started with the new group/Purifoy – hence this track could date back to earlier times and was put on release because Devora was short of new material for Andre or couldn’t get him into the studio, or the backing boys were the new group or were another group altogether.

No matter, the doo woppers and a brassy band (The Ted Walker Orchestra according to the label) combine to create something that’s almost New Orleans in style though the urgency of Andre’s propositions to the young lady would be atypical for the more laidback Crescent City – and the sonics from the Cosimo Matassa studio in New Orleans would be considerably crisper than the Fortune murk sounding as usual as if it was emanating from a grill at the side of the road – full marks to the drummer though who’s determined to cut through it all.

(Georgia May Is) Movin’ (1960) – a curious record since it couples two versions of what is effectively the same song across the two sides of the same platter – this title is on the A-side and is credited to Andre Williams And Gino Parks with the Diablos– the flip which is titled (M m m m – Andre Williams Is) Movin’ has ‘Andre Williams With The Five Dollars’ so (a) it must have been in the can, and (b) is the only time the Five Dollars get visual credit on any of Andre’s Fortune records – well that’s what you’d assume but you’d be wrong since there’s a (c) from Charles Evans in Marv’s R&B Notebook who says that this group is not The Five Dollars since he has no memory of the song! – I’m going with the “Georgia May” side since the horn section is punchier but both tracks once again carry echoes of New Orleans.

Jail House Blues (1960) – not a blues in a structural sense, more of a two chord vamp from an organ over very slow latin(ish) percussion – but the theme certainly couldn’t get much gloomier – Andre has his rap hat on in jail kicking off with “I did it for you darling / This mistake I made, I did it all for you” – what we never learn is what he did – what was this “very bold move”?– did he kill the other man? – was there even another man?

I Still Love You (the flip of Jail House Blues, 1960) – a track that takes us back to the land of creative cribbing (as in Just Want A Little Lovin’) but with a much more unusual source – this time it’s the Elvis of an early RCA timeframe – think Don’t Be Cruel though there could be echoes of All Shook Up too – black singers borrowing from white music wasn’t that unusual a phenomenon though nothing like the wholesale white from black activity – here I would stress that the song isn’t the same, the rhythm is (tantalisingly) similar but not identical and Andre doesn’t go for a full scale imitation of El so the term ‘creative’ is more applicable than the earlier effort with ‘love’ in the title.

I’d add in relation to both sides of this single that the vocal group listed is ‘The Inspirations’ but whether they bear any relation to any other group of that name, of which there have been many, I don’t know. I’m strongly suspicious, though, that this was a name dreamed up by Devora Brown.

Is It True (no sign of it seeing release as a single but it appears in many compilations of Williams Fortune tracks) – It’s also unusual in that Andre receives no vocal backing – what we do get is a rooting tooting jump blues band which does Andre proud.

He said
That they said
That I said
That you said
That she said
That you don’t want me no more

Andre signed to the budding Motown in 1961 but, while he found work as producer and songwriter – among other songs he co-wrote Thank You (For Loving Me All The Way) which appeared as the flip to an early (Little) Stevie Wonder track, and Oh Little Boy (What Did You Do To Me), the flip to Mary Wells’ My Guy – Berry Gordy found little use for Andre as an up-front recording artist. Only one single coupling the country-tinged Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell) with Shoo Doo was scheduled for release but it was withdrawn.

The sixties in general weren’t great for Andre. Picking up a junk habit didn’t help though he did keep performing as much as he could. There were two highish points during the decade though. Firstly, some success for his songwriting efforts with Shake A Tail Feather, co-authored with Otha Hayes and Verlie Rice, and an R&B Chart and Hot 100 hit in 1963 for The Five Du-Tones (for whom it was their 15 minutes of fame). Later versions like the one from Ike And Tina Turner and/or Ray Charles with the Blues Brothers are more likely to be known by the reader. There was a version of the song released in 1980 by Johnny And Andre – Johnny Griffin & Andre Williams – but unfortunately it’s not on YT. However, there are clips of Andre performing the song live on later albums. On this one released in 2003, he’s backed by the Dutch band Green Hornet.

In the second half of the sixties, Andre had a spell with Chess/Checker and, backed by the Dells. had a minor hit – #51 in the R&B Chart – with Cadillac Jack, a track that was a reminder of his days at Fortune albeit with glossier finish:

On the south side of Chicago lived a guy named Jack
Whose dream it was to someday own a Cadillac
He gambled for his money, the first thing you know
Up popped Jack in a brand new El Dorado

While a couple of other tracks in this timeframe made very low entries in the Hot 100 – #94 and #90 in order of appearance – neither warrants a lot of attention (see footnotes for more), leaving Cadillac Jack as second high point for the decade and my only non-Fortune selection.

Although drugs would continue to be, on and off, a major part of Andre’s existence, he did live long enough to enjoy an extended coda to his career. Starting with an album in 1990, Directly From the Streets, produced by Williams, involvement from another Williams, Jerry a.k.a. Swamp Dogg, and distributed by Ichiban in 1990; and continuing with compilations of his Fortune material and then …

Greasy (1996 Norton Records) – on which he was supported by the remaining members of the 1950s doo wop group, the El Dorados – the tracks were a mix of updated Fortune numbers and songs from the fifties and sixties in general – a typical example of the content was Alvin Robinson’s Down Home Girl given the usual Andre Williams treatment.

Silky (1998 Norton Records) – which mixed punk styling via producers Mick Collins and Dan Kroha (of the Dirtbombs and the Demolition Doll Rods respectively) with material which made some of those double entendre Fortune records sound positively tame – AllMusic commented “On Agile, Mobile And Hostile, I Wanna Be Your Favorite Pair Of Pajamas, and Looking Down At You Looking Up At Me, Williams sounds like the world’s most spectacularly dirty old man as a squadron of Detroit alt-rock all-stars kick up a wall of rockin’ din behind him.” Titles like Pussy Stank and Let Me Put It In confirmed the out-and-out raunch obsession but in the midst of the bunch was a surprise: Country And Western Song was confirmation that the country leaning that was present in the early sixties in the unreleased Motown track Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell) hadn’t totally disappeared.

Given the decade – the nineties were when alt-country became flavour of the month (or decade though it’s never really gone away) – the Williams delight in country music wasn’t going to be ignored – his next two albums: Hot As Hell (1999 Nest Of Vipers Records) and Red Dirt (also 1999 Sonic Rendezvous) featured Toronto country and rock ‘n’ roll band the Sadies as accompanists. Andre didn’t change his mix of material overly though even when accompanied by a country fiddle. But there was one track on Red Dirt entitled Queen Of The World which confirmed his love for the genre and his delight in working with such a band (either that or he was indulging himself in one massive p***take).

She was singing Hank Williams when I walked through the door
Put a nail through my heart, wouldna hurt me no more
She musta been hurt bad to be singing that way
Made me wanna put my arms around her till the end of day

Andre Williams Is The Black Godfather (2000 In The Red Recordings) – a return to working with Mick Collins – this time he lays on a host of bands from all over the US to support the ‘Andre as Brando’ figure including the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion from NYC – not as much of the salacious stuff this time but more rock – the weirdest track must be I Wanna Go Back To Mexico starring Andre with the Countdowns.

He continued putting out albums through the noughties – a decade name that he’d have approved of – right up to 2016, three years before he died in March 2019. During that time he was reunited with the Sadies on Night And Day (2012), went back to his R&B roots on Rhythm And Blues (2008) and worked with Motown guitar legend Dennis Coffey on That’s All I Need (2010) and I Want To Go Back To Detroit City (2016).

Andre straddled the worlds of fifties rhythm and blues (and doo wop), sixties and seventies garage punk (think Michigan bands like MC5 and the Stooges) and nineties rap and hip hop. But he was full of contradictions. On his final album there’s a track called Bury Me Deep which, as the title implies, is a list of instructions as to how he should be buried. In addition to the downright obvious requests like “six female pall bearers” and “a pink hearse”, the slightly less predictable “three country and western singers” in attendance, the downright weird ones like “200 convicts” and “a hot dog stand”, there’s a request for “a statue of Elvis Presley as my tombstone”.

In the footnotes I talk a little about the doo wop groups we’ve come across in this Toppermost. With the exception of the Dells, all were no more than one hit wonders i.e. fifteen minutes of fame (as I remarked earlier) though only five minutes perhaps if that hit was only in the R&B Chart. The 5 Dollars didn’t even achieve that relatively small reward even though they should at least take a portion of the credit for the creation of Bacon Fat. But no, they don’t appear in the vast majority of rock history books. But did anyone ever say that popular music was fair?

 

Andre Williams photo 3

The 5 Dollars (l to r): Lonnie Heard, James Drayton,
Charles Evans, Eddie Hurt, Andre Williams

 

FOOTNOTES

1. The Spaniels were one of the early doo wop groups. They got together at high school in Gary, Indiana but signed a record contract with the fledgling Vee Jay label in Chicago in 1953. That they were amongst the first to join the label can be gleaned by the number of their first single, VJ-101, which was preceded only by VJ-100, Jimmy Reed’s High And Lonesome. That Spaniels single was Baby It’s You which got to #10 in the R&B Chart the same year. The following year the group bettered that chart showing with Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite which achieved a #5 spot in the same chart. The group stayed with Vee Jay until it went bankrupt in 1966. According to Wiki, they were the top selling vocal group for the label.

The group disbanded when their label collapsed on them but reformed in ’69 and achieved some retro success with the featuring of Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite in films like American Graffiti.

2. In March 2021, an article written by Nick Paumgarten appeared in the New Yorker entitled “Chronicling Rock And Roll’s Neglected Stories”. It told the story of the creation of “Mind Over Matter: The Myths And Mysteries Of Detroit’s Fortune Records”. The project was started by Billy Miller, “an American musician, archivist, and rock ‘n’ roll collector whose magazine, Kicks, and record label, Norton (both co-founded with his wife Miriam Linna), championed vintage rockabilly and garage bands” (Wiki). Billy unfortunately died of cancer in 2016 but the project didn’t terminate at that juncture. In Nick’s words:

“At the time of Miller’s death, he had been working for more than ten years on a meticulous history of a relatively obscure Detroit label called Fortune Records. Its catalogue, catholic of genre, was a kind of Gnostic gospel of rock and roll, embodying an alternative and mostly neglected story line of rock’s disparate roots. At first, Linna was too grief-stricken to take up the project, but after a few years she and Miller’s co-author, a musician and writer named Michael Hurtt, got down to the harder-than-they’d-thought job of finishing it, with the encouragement of their editor, Marc Miller.”

The book was published in 2020. We’re told it weighs more than five pounds and costs in excess of $100. Miriam insisted on printing it in the Detroit area because it gave work to Michigan people. As a coda to the story, I’d add that Miriam was a founder member of the Cramps, performing on their first gig on 1st November 1976, and continuing up to July 1977. (Wiki)

3. Doo wop group Nolan Strong And The Diablos were one of the more successful Fortune artists staying with the label from 1954 until 1964 when they disbanded. Their record, The Way You Dog Me Around reached the #12 spot in the R&B Chart in 1956. And here’s that “genre-defying” Mind Over Matter referred to in the main text.

Nolan, like Andre, was born in Alabama (in 1934) but moved to Detroit when he was young. He started his group, the Diablos in 1950 and the group won their first (and only) record contract with Fortune in 1954. Initially, they were credited as ‘The Diablos Featuring Nolan Strong’. The Wiki writer makes an illuminating comment about Nolan: “Strong’s smooth voice, influenced mainly by Clyde McPhatter was, in turn, a primary influence on a young Smokey Robinson”. He (the Wiki writer) goes on to say that Berry Gordy did show interest in the group but no deal was ever finalised.

Nolan died in 1977 so there was never to be a late revival of Nolan Strong And The Diablos (though Wiki does say that there is a group billed as ‘Nolan Strong’s Diablos’ presently active).

4. The Dells were a doo wop group but they were an exception to the rule that almost all doo wop groups that you came across were one hit wonders. They started out in Harvey, Illinois but moved to Chicago after they signed a contract with Vee Jay in 1955. Their first hit – #4 in the R&B Chart – came with Oh What A Nite in 1956. In 1962, they switched to the Argo label, a subsidiary of Chess later renamed Cadet. Over the sixties they hit both the R&B Chart and the Hot 100 on several occasions; these included a makeover of Oh What A Night (note the changed spelling) in 1969.

5. Andre’s post Fortune sixties singles were spread across a number of small – sometimes very small – indies with names like Avin, Wingate, Ric-Tic and Sport, plus, as already mentioned, Chess/Checker. The bulk of these – and that includes some of the Checker sides – were instrumental dance tracks often with minimalist voiceover from Andre. A couple made very low-end contact with the Hot 100: Rib Tips (Parts 1 & 2 on Avin), a Jr. Walker soundalike sax-led effort which made #94 in ’66, and Pearl Time (Sport) released in ’67. The second of the pair was an attempt to follow the Bacon Fat formula but the public wasn’t wildly enthusiastic and it got no higher than #90.

6. The El Dorados were a doo wop group which signed with Vee Jay in 1954. Their greatest success came with At My Front Door in 1955 which hit the number one spot on the R&B Chart and crossed over to reach #17 in the Hot 100. Apart from another R&B Chart top tenner in 1956, further singles from the group failed to replicate these chart showings and Vee Jay let them go in 1958.

7. There are no clips of Andre performing in the Fortune period; no surprise there, I guess. However, there are a handful from more recent years. Best of the bunch is one of Bacon Fat from 2010; again, no surprise, just great to have it.

“Have Mercy” …

 

8. Oh, and I neglected to include the Sir Douglas Quintet version of Bacon Fat. Here it is. Note that a different composer altogether, Syd Nathan, gets credit this time.

 

9. I may have unintentionally played down Andre’s songwriting capabilities as evidenced during his spell at Motown. Shortly before this post went live, I had occasion to revisit the Topper I put together on Mable John, who was one of those rare artists who recorded for both Motown and Stax. Note the songwriter highlighted (see below). His co-writing credit for Take Me puts his writing skills on a different level altogether and I can now clearly see his hand at work in that “recitation cum rap section wherein she lists how well her friends were but adding sneering comment.” Mable may have created a masterpiece but the base material gave her something to work with.

“The A-side of single #3 from Mable, Actions Speak Louder Than Words was a decent track and as close as Berry Gordy had got to uptown soul so far – once again he was composer/producer – but it paled into insignificance in comparison to the flip. The title of Take Me, a song from Motown staff writers Andre Williams and William “Mickey” Stevenson, promised something that might at least smoulder. It did more than that; it erupted. The Motown Junkies site used the word “awesome” and went on to describe the record as “louche, gospel-inflected quasi-blues, occasionally chaotically disorganised and occasionally near-devotional in its direct intensity”. Lyrically, the song is one of desolation and not so quiet desolation either. Mable is “lonesome and blue”, looking forward to a life of “pain and misery”. There’s a recitation cum rap section wherein she lists how well her friends were but adding sneering comment – “ain’t they lucky”, “always thought they’d make a nice couple” – which is unlike any mid-song recitation I’ve ever heard, it virtually turns the trope on its head. And she’s supported throughout by excellent backing male singers (with a prominent Mr. Bassman) who might or might not have been the Temptations (but I suspect not since the Motown Junkies don’t mention their name).”

I go on to say “Easily the finest record from Mable’s stay at Motown.”

 

 

 

Andre Williams poster 1

 

Andre Williams (1936-2019)

 

Andre Williams Discography at 45cat

Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame: Andre Williams

Andre Williams at Bloodshot Records

Andre Williams biography (Allmusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #1,034

3 Comments

  1. Cal Taylor
    Aug 2, 2022

    Andre Williams deserves a bigger place in music history than he commands – not for his singing (he couldn’t, as he admitted) but for other attributes, mainly his songwriting and production work over sixty years for other artists. The artists that AW was involved with, often at the beginning of their careers, reads like a pop music’s Who’s Who.
    This is a fabulous Toppermost. It has been extremely well researched. A top piece of writing, Dave. Well done.
    Andre was multi-talented. He even had a novel, called ‘Sweets’, published in 2009. Throughout his life he seemed to live life ‘sailing close to the wind’. He was a very strong-minded character, which caused him problems when he came up against more powerful similar types but never appeared to regret anything and he seemed ‘at peace’ with himself. This frank and interesting article appeared in the fanzine ‘Fear And Loathing’, who interviewed AW shortly before his 76th birthday. It gives a great insight into Andre’s character and showed him to be quite the philosophiser.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Aug 2, 2022

    What a remarkable career and what a superb Toppermost. Spent an enjoyable afternoon checking out covers of ‘Bacon Fat’ including one very good one by Willy DeVille. Also wondered if ‘Bury Me Deep’ could be seen as fitting within the ‘Unfortunate Rake’/ ‘St James’ Infirmary’ school of songs.
    Also heard a vague trace of Lou Reed’s vocal style here – maybe a fan? I note that Robert Quine played on one of Andre’s later albums.

    • Dave Stephens
      Aug 3, 2022

      Cal & Andrew, many thanks. I opened the interview that you referenced Cal and am glad that I did. Within it Andre, in addition to talking himself up at every opportunity, mentions Johnny Cash as an influence alongside the more predictable Cab Calloway: “At that time, you really had to be able to sing to be a star, but I saw that maybe I could make a mixture of Cab Calloway and Johnny Cash. I always liked his persona. He didn’t have to work at it. All the other entertainers had to work at what they were doing, but Johnny Cash could just sit down and mesmorise you (sic). He didn’t have to work, he could just capture you with his character and the way he said it. So, I tried to put that together with my talking. I mean, when you look at it, Johnny Cash and Cab Calloway were so much alike, because neither one of them were great singers, in the usual sense, but they were fantastic story-tellers.”
      How much of that was real and how much it could have been Andre echoing back things that had been said to him we’ll never know but it’s another piece to add to the fascinating jigsaw that was Andre Williams.
      Andrew, I see that you picked up on the Twitter dialogue between Keith Shackleton and self. Keith pointed me to the fine Topper he’d written on Robert Quine within which he’d selected, as one of his tracks for The Ten, Head First from Andre’s 2001 album Bait And Switch on which Robert played. And in reference to the wide range of collaborators that Andre worked with during his later years I did comment: “… after a lot of head banging I decided to stick with the early incarnation – there was just too much to explore in the “comeback”.

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