Larry Williams

TrackSingle
Just BecauseSpecialty 597
Let Me Tell You BabySpecialty 597
Bony MoronieSpecialty 615
Dizzy Miss LizzySpecialty 626
Slow DownSpecialty 626
She Said "Yeah"Specialty 658
My Baby's Got SoulChess 1736
Oh BabyChess 1764
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (with Johnny Watson)OKeh 4-7274
Too Late (with Johnny Watson)OKeh 4-7281

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Larry Williams playlist

 

Larry Williams photo 1

Larry Williams

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

The baddest boy in rock‘n’roll who made some of the greatest discs in the genre.

Discuss

I was never asked to write an essay on that subject at school. Maybe it’s one that gets set in some of the courses they run at university these days. Or maybe not. While in my eyes, Larry Williams was among the more influential of the fifties rockers if you judge by the number and status of the sixties bands who later covered his records, he’s not usually among the handful of names that come to mind when you think fifties. And that’s borne out by the fact that record labels haven’t exactly lavished attention on him over the years; Ace UK have done their usual good job with the Specialty material but he recorded for several more labels and no one has put together a 4xCD multi-label career-spanning overview box set of the kind you see for other artists.

Let’s address that “greatest discs in the genre” thing first. Both single #4, Slow Down and the later She Said “Yeah” easily reach that plateau for me if not surpass it somewhat. The reader might well know the Beatles version of the former and the Stones take on She Said “Yeah”. The appeal of both songs (and performances) is abundantly clear after a single listen; each had a quality of seeming to transcend the constraints of the rock‘n’roll format whilst maintaining the level of exuberance and excitement that attracted most people to the genre in the first place. Okay, the two most important names in sixties Brit Rock brought their own personalities to the covers but there was mucho respect for the Williams originals.

Slow Down, penned by Larry (as indeed were most of his tracks), was rhythm and riff driven with the latter propelled almost percussively by our man’s piano – there might even have been two – above a big fat juicy bed of horns. Producer Bumps Blackwell was so pleased with the riff – and it has to be said it was most unusual with a rising opening followed by a middle which hammers along on one note before the end section completes the whole thing with almost an arpeggio – that he delayed Larry’s vocal appearance until the band had executed a full twelve bars. Blackwell had done the same thing in his production of Little Richard’s Lucille, and why not – if you have a riff you’re proud of, show it off a little!

Come on pretty baby won’t you walk with me
Come on pretty baby won’t you talk with me
Come on pretty baby I’ll give you one more chance
Try to save our romance
Slow down
Baby, now you’re moving way too fast
You better gimme little loving
Gimme little loving
Bwwww, if you want our love to last

(And the “Bwwww” was merely me trying, and failing, to do that thing Larry did with his mouth.)

She Said “Yeah” wasn’t penned by Larry. Instead it was authored by little known white singer Roddy Jackson (see Footnotes) and later-to-achieve-fame, white singer, Sonny Bono (disguised under the name S. Christy) – who was operating as an A&R Man at Specialty. YouTube has Roddy’s demo of the track and it’s worth observing immediately that getting from that to the released Williams record took a heck of a lot of work. Once again, the number is based on a riff, a less complex one than on Slow Down and it’s sung first by Larry – “Dum deedle dee dum dum” – then played by the horns in the verse and finally via the horns echoing Larry in call and response mode in the chorus. Throw in stop time breaks all over the place and a frantic drummer, not to mention Larry positively drooling onto the floor ‘cause his gal has finally said yes – the last was something that did transfer from the Jackson demo – and you have something almost revolutionary. Williams and Blackwell have taken that original and ratcheted the whole thing up through more gears than you’d think possible. It’s all over in less than 1 minute 50 seconds but you know that stylus is going right back to the start.

One further track deserves to have that “greatest” sticker applied. It’s fifties rock and roll with no bones about it and it’s as good as most things by the fifties rock gods. The record is Bony Moronie which at the time would have seemed an obvious follow-on to Larry’s second single, Short Fat Fannie. The last named needs a little context:

Larry Williams was signed by Specialty Records shortly before Little Richard made his grand gesture in Sydney Harbour which resulted in Specialty losing their only guaranteed hitmaker or what we would call these days, their cash cow. Williams had had one record out on Specialty at that time, the blues ballad Just Because which reached #11 in the R&B Chart – more on that later. With Richard gone, Specialty put all their energy into grooming and promoting Williams as his replacement, cutting a second single, Short Fat Fannie, that sounded remarkably like the man. Williams even threw in references to Richard’s singles on the first line – “I was slipping and sliding with a long tall Sally” – before widening the scope of the references to cover any current records. It was okay but, in all honesty, not up to the standard of Mr Penniman’s records. However, record #3, Bony Moronie, in spite of having that dreaded follow-up or sequel label round its neck, was n times better than its predecessor and competed well with most of Richard’s singles. I’ve been talking riffs in relation to later records by Larry. This record was all riff with Williams adding the icing on the top. Lucille plus if you like, but with added oomph.

I’ve singled these three records out but that doesn’t mean the rest should be ignored. Let Me Tell You Baby, the flip of his first single, was a fine medium tempo blues, even if the break with Larry clattering away at the piano did push it somewhat into rock‘n’roll territory. At this juncture his records were still being marketed at a black audience used to early fifties R&B. As already stated, this all changed with Short Fat Fannie with the title of its flip, High School Dance, pandering even more to, mainly white, teenagers. In fact, underneath those three words was a perfectly good swamp popper trying to get out.

Elsewhere his records displayed a wider array of stylistic approaches than perhaps one might have expected, ranging from outright fun with Bad Boy with its echoes of the Coasters and the Everlys’ Bird Dog, to proto-soul such as I Was A Fool and dance tracks like Hootchie Koo. And it’s worth adding that, with the last named, Larry was ahead of both Hank Ballard and James Brown in promoting what might or might not have been the latest dance craze. Straightforward Little Richard style rockers like Dizzy Miss Lizzy didn’t get ignored of course. That little baby was only the A-side to Slow Down making the pairing a great contender for a slot in the top twenty of the greatest rock‘n’roll double-siders ever. (Bad Boy c/w She Said “Yeah” would have been another candidate.)

I’ve sort of tiptoed around Larry’s first single, Just Because, since I’ve been unable to make up my mind whether to include it or not. The rationale for not doing so would have been because it was a very blatant cover (for more on this, see Footnotes). Subjectivity, or the fact that I just love the record, eventually swayed my judgement, so here it is:

In 1959, Williams got himself arrested for possession of narcotics though he was more likely to have had them in his capacity of a seller than a user. This led to an eighteen month prison sentence which didn’t kick off until the summer of 1961. The founder of Specialty Records, Art Rupe, dropped him from the label which could have had as much to do with falling sales – Dizzy, Miss Lizzy in Spring ’58 with a lowly #69 position had been his last charting single – as the drug bust. In addition to this illicit second career, Williams also operated as a pimp, or “ran women” to use the vernacular. Reportedly, Bumps Blackwell is on record as saying that Williams was operating as a pimp before they cut their first record together.

Continuing his career as the bad boy of rock and roll, Williams was arrested again in 1973 and, in 1977, he threatened long-term friend Little Richard with a gun over an unpaid drug debt. In January 1980 he was found dead in his home in Los Angeles from a gunshot wound. Although the death was recorded as a suicide there was much speculation as to whether it was murder. No suspects were ever arrested or charged.

Back to the music. After getting the boot from Art Rupe, but prior to his spell in jail, Larry managed to get himself signed to Chess Records in Chicago which resulted in five singles and, according to BlackCat Rockabilly Europe an LP, though “nobody has ever seen” the latter according to that source.

His first Chess single, My Baby’s Got Soul, though relatively little known, has to be in that grouping of mid to late fifties proto-soul ballads from names like James Brown, Sam Cooke, Little Willie John and Ray Charles. It’s highly likely that Williams would have heard records from these gents and others and was intent on competing – there’s a scream that’s an obvious crib from JB only a short way in – to the extent that he overdoes things a little in places. However, that’s my only slight gripe with a record that in most respects is an early deep soul gem. And maybe it was a bit of early practice for Chess with Etta James coming on board less than a year later.

There was no return to the charts for Larry and My Baby’s Got Soul and, probably for that reason, Chess reverted to more conventional, mainly up-tempo R&B for subsequent releases. I’ve selected Oh Baby, the unimaginative title of which belies a fine little shuffle affair wherein Larry comes across as a distinct Mr. Cool chucking in far more words than anyone had a right to expect in each line, with response from a femme chorus à la Mr Charles and his Raelettes. Though the most striking thing about the whole record might be the start of the guitar break with a sound more acid than Steve Cropper and Lowman Pauling put together. I was also tempted by Lawdy Mama, possibly the fastest rocker that Larry ever recorded and the melee that’s going on in the background is given an extra dimension by an electric violin which appears part way through. Whether this was Don “Sugarcane” Harris I don’t know but would guess there could also be the possibility of the Mighty Diddley being the man with the bow.

Post prison, Larry Williams didn’t appear to settle for a year or two with discs appearing on a variety of labels, with the majority having little or no visibility on either YouTube or Spotify. What he did do, though, was travel to the UK with Johnny “Guitar” Watson in tow. From the series of shows that these gentlemen delivered with the Stormsville Shakers in support, two live LPs were put together. For details on the albums, see the footnotes but I can state that I was lucky enough to see Larry and Johnny at the Soho Flamingo and they put on a good show with a mix of soul numbers interspersed with some of the earlier hits. My memory isn’t sharp enough to recall whether they delivered a version of the Yardbirds’ For Your Love but it’s on one of the albums (the Decca one).

The Williams/Watson pairing was to continue after the return to the US, with several singles being released from the duo on OKeh in addition to a number with only Larry’s name on from the same label. Much of this material appears on an album called Two For The Price Of One. I wrote in a review of the set:

“What this music is, well the first ten tracks anyway, is 60s soul with nods to both Stax and Motown. Larry and Johnny come at you like Sam and Dave though perhaps with a little less distinctiveness than that famous pair – maybe their voices are too similar. However, there’s plenty of energy and a mix of rawness and sophistication which gives the music the pair make, a sound of its own. Most of the titles are upbeat fill-the-dance-floor type numbers and I’m reliably informed that the title track, “Too Late” and “A Quitter Never Wins” were big favourites on the Northern Soul circuit.”

I’ve included the second of the mentioned tracks, Too Late, in my Ten and feel that the words above are adequate introduction. However, I’m also happy to quote a couple of phrases from a current eBay ad for this record – “Big Wigan dancer. Still filling the floor.”

Also in the set, and released on single, was Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, a version of the Joe Zawinul authored song, recorded by Cannonball Adderley. The original did tend to lay on the drama somewhat thickly and I find the Williams/Watson take rather more approachable with the boys taking alternate verses and joshing with each other. “Can you dig it?” as they comment/question more than once. The track achieved a low-end chart placing as also did 1967’s Nobody, a most unusual record which matched up Larry & Johnny with the psych folk band, Kaleidoscope. Funk eastern as I referred to it in the Kaleidoscope Topper. A surprising success in my eyes but strictly a one-off; Kaleidoscope didn’t even appear on the flip.

The OKeh connection was successful for Larry in other respects: he produced two albums for Little Richard on the label after his return to secular music, and oversaw the music aspects of some of the not-so-little fellow’s club appearances. Larry himself also appeared in several films in the late sixties and early seventies.

The records dried up after a solitary single on Bell in 1969; for that he was teamed up again with Johnny Watson on the tracks, Can’t Find No Substitute For Love and I Could Love You Baby.

However, there was to be one last flourish. The 1978 album, That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk, incorporated many of the lessons from the funk supremo, the Amazing Mr. James Brown, not to mention some from that man’s many disciples. Larry knew where to go for support for this album; both Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker were there in the brass section. The set’s opening track took us back through the years, envisaging Bony Moronie in a new role as a disco queen and allowing Larry to include a brief chorus of “Shake your bony booty” (though the track’s synthesiser and electric piano were a step too far for me). There was more booty shaking on what might have been the best track, The Resurrection Of Funk (Funk Comes Alive), which very nearly made my ten:

Dik De Heer in the BlackCat Rockabilly feature on Larry stated that “Many rock n roll fans, including myself, find it difficult to discuss the music of Larry Williams without being distracted by the excesses in his personal life”, and I strongly empathise with those words. What is not in doubt, though. is that Williams was definitely among the more creative of the fifties generation of rock performers. It would not have been Bumps Blackwell alone who bore the responsibility for the levels of innovation heard in Slow Down and She Said “Yeah”, and I’ve made relatively little in this essay of the fact that the Williams name adorned that bracketed slot immediately below the title on a remarkably high number of records right through to the funk period. In addition, unlike some of his peers and I’m thinking of the likes of Penniman and Lewis, he was almost invariably the man pounding the piano on record and he was often the arranger and/or producer.

One does wonder whether if Williams hadn’t had the revenue stream that came from his extra-curricular activity, he would have applied more of his energy and focus to the subject of making music rather than money, to the extent that he could have become one of the big names in soul instead of being just something of a cult favourite to northern soul fans.

But the world’s full of what ifs; we do still have a legacy of very fine music to enjoy.

 

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Larry Williams was born on 10th May 1935 in New Orleans but, when he was in his teens, the family moved to Oakland, California. Having learned the piano he joined a local group called the Lemon Drops. In 1954, he went back to New Orleans for a visit and fell in with some of the R&B performers including Lloyd Price. He got a job as Price’s valet, chauffeur (and pianist) and Price introduced him to Bumps Blackwell, the house producer for Specialty Records, a label which was based in L.A. but often recorded in New Orleans. Blackwell was instrumental in getting Williams signed to Specialty.

Larry’s first record for Specialty was a cover; not only that, it was a cover of a song from his erstwhile employer Lloyd Price. The latter had had a falling out with Art Rupe, owner of the label. The disagreement may or may not have been about the song, Just Because, which was based on Caro Nome from Rigoletto. This is the Maria Callas version of Caro Nome. Rupe didn’t think that an operatic piece stood a chance of making the charts, rocked-up or not. As a result, Price left Specialty, set up his own label, KRC Records, and recorded Just Because which went on to be a revered single by the swamp pop guys in South Western Louisiana (and a hit, as it happened).

As soon as Rupe and Blackwell had got Larry on board and Lloyd’s record started shifting copies, they recorded that same song in the same studio – Cosimo Matassa’s in New Orleans – with the same musicians (who were largely members of the Fats Domino band), using exactly the same arrangement. How much of this was down to Rupe, Blackwell or Williams, we’ll never know, though it was the kind of thing that happened in those days. One could argue that Price had greater success with Just Because – #3 in the R&B Chart and crossing over to # 29 in the Pop Chart, set against Williams #11 in the R&B Chart – but it still left him a mighty sore man.

2. The Beatles recorded Slow Down on the Long Tall Sally EP and Dizzy Miss Lizzy on the Help LP (and they also recorded Bad Boy). The Stones included She Said “Yeah” on Out Of Our Heads (December’s Children in the US). I’d single out that track as possibly the best Williams cover. The Beatles “almost certainly performed” the song in their live act (according to Wiki) and were apparently intending to record it. To quote Paul McCartney from the same source: “John did Slow Down … I was always going to do She Said Yeah”.

3. Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell was born in Seattle in 1918 but moved down the coast to Los Angeles in 1953 after gaining experience leading a jazz group (which only contained the rather young Ray Charles and Quincy Jones). After kicking his heels for a time in L.A. he got himself a job working for Art Rupe at Specialty as arranger and general assistant. He was the man who Rupe entrusted to move the relatively raw Little Richard from an everyday blues singer into something more special (see versions of that story which appear in the very fine BlackCat Rockabilly feature on Bumps and my own take in the Richard Toppermost). The versions vary as do the tellers of the stories which resulted in those articles.

Bumps was a major contributor to the success of Little Richard at Specialty and worked with him again in both management and production roles in later years after the return from religion. Another notable early success for Bumps was as producer on Sam Cooke’s You Send Me. He also worked with Herb Alpert, Lou Adler, Sly & The Family Stone, the Five Blind Boys Of Alabama and many more. He also produced several of the tracks on Dylan’s Shot Of Love album.

4. Not too many weeks before putting together this Toppermost, I was one of the contributors to a three piece Toppermost on James Brown, with the other writers being Cal Taylor and his son, Ceri. The research included a crash course on the subject of funk music. The cache memory in my brain was still retaining some of that info when I embarked on the subject of Larry Williams. As a consequence I started making connections on records and artists which hadn’t happened hitherto. The initial pair of tracks that I singled out as special in this essay are of particular interest in this context. That riff that appears in Slow Down has, to the best of my knowledge, no precursor in terms of popular music. I think that Brown’s first multi-part riff – and the Slow Down riff fits that description in my eyes – didn’t happen until 1960 and the record, Think.

And just listen to She Said “Yeah”. If that’s not “The One” that slams into you at the start of that riff, the magical first down stroke which was so important in funk (see the Brown Topper including the footnotes), then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

5. Roddy Jackson was a piano-playing rocker who recorded for Specialty between 1957 and 1959. The label saw him as a kind of white version of Little Richard. He only made three singles but on their compilation of his material entitled Central Valley Fireball, Ace UK managed to expand this to 16 tracks in total via inclusion of outtakes which were often more exciting than the released material. I’ve Got My Sights On Someone New was the A-side of his first single.

6. For anyone not aware of the Little Richard Sydney Harbour event, this is how I described it in an Amazon review which later got included in “RocknRoll”:

“On his 2 week tour of Oz in October ’57, Richard found religion in a big way. A rocky flight from Melbourne to Sydney plus a vision in the sky (which we were later told was Sputnik 1, the first satellite), shook him to his very bones. He renounced his wicked ways, threw his $8,000 ring into Sydney Harbour, and left on a ferry – the plane he was originally scheduled to leave on apparently crashed into the Pacific!”

7. Curiously the UK release of Bony Moronie was speeded up, resulting in a shorter record and Larry seeming to sing in a higher key. This was what it sounded like. For lads like myself at the time who had no idea that this wasn’t the correct speed, all was absolutely fine.

Bony Moronie has been covered many times. Notably on two classic 1975 UK albums: Down By The Jetty by Dr Feelgood and Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Lennon. There’s a comprehensive listing of cover versions of the song here.

8. I mention in the main text that there were two LPs recorded “live” in the UK featuring Larry (and Johnny) in 1965. The albums were entitled The Larry Williams Show Featuring Johnny “Guitar” Watson which was released on Decca with Mike Vernon as producer, and Larry Williams On Stage! Recorded Live which saw release on Sue UK and later got picked up by Edsel. Guy Stevens was behind the production console on the Sue set. Both LPs featured the Stormsville Shakers as support band and, although the titles of both albums were strongly suggestive of being recorded in a live – possibly club – environment, in fact that wasn’t the case; both were studio sessions. The only difference– apart from being in different studios – was the fact that a small audience had been invited into the studio for the Sue set. According to the Stormsville Shakers website, included in that audience were two screamin’ gentlemen, Lord Sutch and Jay Hawkins.

I’ve already included one track, For Your Love from the Decca set – here’s a fine slow blues entitled Two Hours Past Midnight from Johnny Watson. The Sue album was probably more typical of the Williams stage show containing several of his fifties hits plus numbers like Please, Please, Please, Think and Turn On Your Lovelight which could be guaranteed to go down well with a London mod audience at the time (particularly if delivered as well as this).

9. Phillip Goodhand-Tait and the Stormsville Shakers started out from a school group formed in Guildford, with Tait on vocal and piano. They began as a guitar, piano, bass and drums outfit, but by the mid sixties they’d added a pair of sax players and were broadly playing that form of R&B favoured by the bands of Zoot Money, Cliff Bennett and Georgie Fame. This made them a good match for the Larry Williams brand of music both in its original Specialty flavour and his horns-based sixties style. Tait recorded a number of singles both with and without the Stormsville Shakers but met with only limited success. He did, though, have some success as a writer of hit singles, particularly for Love Affair. Single #2 for the Stormsville Shakers, No Problem, written by Tait and released in Summer ’66, gives an idea of the group’s sound.

10. My coverage of Larry’s output from the end of his jail sentence to his signing with OKeh was cursory to say the least. Below the reader will find a little more detail (with dates and release info from 45cat):

Jul 1963 – Woman / Can’t Help Myself (Mercury) – not on YT or Spotify but I noted that producer Jack Tracy, who was known mainly for his work on jazz records, had just moved from Chess to Mercury which might offer a clue as to why the record was on Mercury.

1965 – Beatle Time (Part 1) / Beatle Time (Part 2) (Jola) – with artists shown as Larry and Johnny – who were, of course. Messrs. Williams and Watson – not on YT or Spotify but Discogs states that the other musicians were Don Harris on bass and Dewey Terry on guitar – the presence of Harris here does lend a touch of credence to the possibility that the electric violin on Lawdy Mama might have been his. I’ve not heard the record but I can append the words of James “The Hound” Marshall in his HoundBlog: “Beatle Time pts 1 & 2 on Jola was less than something to s**t your panties over”.

Dec 1965 – Boss Lovin’ / Call On Me (El Bam then picked up by Smash) – fair to good soul style with my preference being for the flip and worthy of note in that this pairing was the first record from Larry on which you could clearly slap the label ‘soul’ – should also note that both songs were written by Williams.

Following the OKeh records in the US, were a couple on Sound Venture and one on Bell. All broadly had that Williams/Watson sound whether or not the latter was credited.

The situation on releases in the UK was even more confusing – his discs during the ’63 to ’65 period comprised:

The Beatle Time single as a limited edition (99 copies) on the Outa-Site label which was owned by Blue Horizon

Strange / Call On Me on Sue – John Manship values the single at £250 and comments: “Not for the first time, Larry Williams’s studio attitude creates something unforgettable. 1965 D.I.Y. project missed out on sales & effective promotion. Leaving the Northern Soul collector another Larry W rarity to hunt down. Fabulous Rare L.A. R&B.”

Sweet Little Baby / Slowdown on Decca from the “live” LP

Turn On Your Lovelight / Dizzy Miss Lizzy on Sue from their “live” LP,

11. The best collection of Larry’s Specialty material has to be At His Finest: The Specialty Rock ‘n’ Roll Years from Ace UK. The first disc contains all the released material but the treasures come in Disc 2 of the two CD set which contains a load of unreleased numbers, with several being covers of New Orleans classics like Iko Iko, plus alternate takes which are also impressive with many being genuinely different versions of songs rather than minor variants. A good example is Take 5 of Bad Boy, a fast reading of the song with the punchline “Junior behave yourself”.

12. In an ideal world I would have been able to select a suitable live clip of Larry with which to close. But there aren’t any. So, in the absence of even some lip synching from one of those US telly shows, here’s the ’65 version of Slowdown with Phil Tait’s guys kicking up a storm in the background and Johnny Watson scything his way through the axe break. And for those interested, the sleeve image came from a performance at the Ricky Tick in Guildford.

In reference to that record … on the Stormsville Shakers site, Phil Tait comments: “We did record a reasonable version of “Slow down” though, which Decca released as a single but in all honesty, I prefer the Specialty original … Larry was a generous guy. And he was free with honest advice. He wrote ‘As you asked in your letter, I’ll be happy to send you some tunes. Just promise me one thing, you’ll keep on trying to make it. I’m betting on you.'”

Maybe not always a bad boy then.

 

Larry Williams poster

 

Larry Williams photo 2

(l to r): Alan Freed, Larry Williams, Ben Dacosta, Buddy Holly (1957)

 

Larry Williams (1935–1980)

 

Larry Williams Discography at 45cat

Larry Williams on Discogs

Johnny “Guitar” Watson (1935–1996)

Larry Williams biography (iTunes)

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

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Cliff Bennett, James Brown, Ray Charles, Coasters, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Georgie Fame, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Little Richard, Little Willie John, Zoot Money

TopperPost #787

15 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    May 8, 2019

    Thanks for yet another superbly informative piece. Always loved The Beatles version of ‘Slow Down’ before eventually discovering that Larry’s original was even better. This great piece fills in the rest of the picture.

  2. David Lewis
    May 9, 2019

    Re Footnote 6: Where did Richard throw that ring? Other sources state it was the Parramatta River (which is a tributary to Sydney Harbour). Certainly, a lazy Sunday in sleepy old Sydney, following his experience on the plane, might give you a glimpse of eternity…

  3. Peter Viney
    May 9, 2019

    Thorough and insightful as ever. But I disagree on Mercy Mercy Mercy. I have a whole playlist of versions, and first none compare to the original, but also I find the Larry Williams version abysmal. Minstrelsy. I took it off the playlist. The Cannonball Adderly might be on my Desert Island ten, let alone Toppermost for one artist,

  4. Andrew Shields
    May 9, 2019

    David,there was a discussion of the ring question in Dave’s Little Richard Toppermost. At that time, I thought the consensus was that it was thrown into the Hunter River, not Sydney Harbour. He was on his way up to play a concert in Newcastle on the ferry at the time.

  5. Peter Viney
    May 9, 2019

    Andrew and David – how long have you guys spent panning rivers for Little Richard’s ring?

    • David Lewis
      May 9, 2019

      Andrew: almost certainly not the Hunter. Maybe the Hawkesbury. And in fact, that’s the river I meant. And now you mention it, I realise my senility has taken grip. Yes. We did.
      Peter, alas none. I wouldn’t go in any of the Sydney waterways, at least the industrial or commercial ones.
      But it’s down there somewhere.

  6. Dave Stephens
    May 9, 2019

    Gentlemen, I have to confess to being a little naughty. The brain matter hadn’t completely crumbled into dust since I put the Little Richard Topper together only to unleash a storm of controversy regarding the Georgia Peach diamond ring throwing episode. After the furore I even added Footnote #23 to correct my initial version of said episode.
    However this time round I felt the original story could still stand (in the true Robert Zimmerman style). It wasn’t a million miles from what is now perceived to be the truth. (And it did occur that a check for completeness of reading wasn’t entirely out of order.)

    • David Lewis
      May 10, 2019

      Should point out that i didn’t want to open controversy, just mention that either Sydney or Newcastle’s sleepy, eternal seeming Sundays might give one a touch of the infinite, and look for a life beyond the earthly one he’d have seen in its tedium. Where the ring is was not my meaning. My apologies.

  7. Andrew Shields
    May 9, 2019

    To quote Liberty Valance, ‘when the legend becomes fact, print the legend’

  8. Cal Taylor
    May 10, 2019

    This really is an excellent Toppermost on Larry Williams and it does the man justice. Thanks, Dave.
    Larry was truly one of THE best rock’n’rollers – but, as this Toppermost shows, he had more than one string to his bow and should have enjoyed more chart success. He was a great lyricist, too. It’s a pity that he seemed to have a self-destruct button but Larry Williams should never be forgotten. Modern music owes him much.

    • Dave Stephens
      May 11, 2019

      “Larry Williams should never be forgotten”. You put it well and thanks for those words Cal.

  9. Alex Lifson
    May 11, 2019

    Loved this piece.

  10. Glenn Smith
    May 13, 2019

    It’s a simple fact that if there is no Larry Williams and no Arthur Alexander we don’t get the John Lennon we all know and love. They taught him how to use that voice of his in more ways than even Buddy or Elvis did, he gets his range and power from those guys, think about Anna and Bad Boy/Slow Down. And I get why Bad Boy isn’t in the list as The Beatles version is the ultimate. It’s worth noting the extent of Larry’s influence on Lennon is shown by the fact that there were three Larry tunes on Lennon’s famous jukebox: Short Fat Fannie, She Said Yeah and Bad Boy.
    I think of Larry Williams and I’m immediately transported back to my early teens, closely examining song writing credits, trying to work out who wrote what, and did they have records? I had the Stones Out of Their Heads and loved She Said Yeah (and their cracking take on Chuck’s Talkin Bout You), but had no idea who the writers were, as Dave has explained (Sonny Bono!), and it took a kindly and canny record shop owner to explain they got it from Larry Williams (and apparently the b side to Bad Boy!), which of course led to $6.99 purchase of a The Best of Larry Williams lp, happy days…thanks Dave.

  11. Ian du Feu
    May 13, 2019

    Loved this too.

    • Dave Stephens
      May 14, 2019

      Thank you for all those words guys. I just hope that someone who doesn’t remember Larry reads this and listens to some of his music.

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