Andre Williams plays the kind of music that SLUG magazine is proud to get behind. Down and dirty, completely authentic & 100% original, a real soul rebel, his obscurity is almost baffling, and somewhat conflicting reports of his start in the music business only further the stuff of legend—pretty "cult" for a guy who wrote "Shake a Tail Feather" and produced the first version of "Mustang Sally.” Long before I had discovered his cut "Sweet Little Pussycat" on one of the wonderful Las Vegas Grind compilation LPs, I read about The Cramps’ fascination with Andre Williams in RE/SEARCH Publications "Incredibly Strange Music." This highly recommended book follows a group of esoteric collectors and artists through a landscape of forgotten gems of sonic madness. Miss Poison Ivy and the late, great ghoul, Lux Interior take us through a litany of outsider rockabilly, blues, soul, and exotica weirdo classics. They wax poetic on Williams' tale of Lolita-like attraction, “Jail Bait,” written about his exploits as an underage, AWOL, navy steward chasing the pretty young poison and jailhouse confessional.
"Bacon Fat" was his biggest solo hit in 1957, and Andre often utilized the talk-song banter and "novelty" aspect on many of his songs, such as "Going Down to Tijuana, "Rib Tips," "Pig Snoots" and others. He would depend on his skills as an entertainer, a flashy dancer that drew many ladies to the audience, reaching the Apollo to open up for the likes of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. His early success led to stints at Motown—Andre was present at Stevie Wonders' first session and he put the Miracles on the bill of their first big hometown show. By the ‘70s, he even found himself co-producing Tina Turner’s last solo record for United Artists, Let Me Touch Your Mind. Unfortunately, Andre also found himself keeping pace with Ike Turner’s insane work nonstop, fueled by cocaine. Andre dug in deep, eventually destitute and with extremely poor health. Much of the ‘80s was spent in this state. He somehow managed to survive and resurfaced in the ‘90s.
In 1996, Andre returned with a collection of songs, Greasy, for the Norton label, including a sonically rich sound astoundingly faithful to the late fifties Fortune records he cut. Andre’s backing band on this album is phenomenal, including guitarist Dick Taylor, of The Pretty Things. The El Doradoes, a surviving doo-wop group led by Pinkie Lee Moses Jr., provided the backing vocals. What he recorded next with Mick Collins of The Gories, the raunch rock album Silky for In The Red records, was a bold flash forward. Fuzzed out garage soul grooviness oozes all over an almost beligerent sounding Williams, announcing on the first cut that he is still "Agile, Mobile and Hostile." The then-62-year-old goes on to sing about "Bonin'," "Pussy Stank," and marijuana.
An even wider audience was reached with another In The Red release, 2000’s The Black Godfather, which featured more Collins, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and The Oblivians among other talent in the growing garage revival. He covered The Cramps' "I Can't Find My Mind," returning the favor of their rendition of his "Jail Bait." He also recorded an incredible country album with The Sadies, Red Dirt, for Bloodshot Records in 1999. A slew of reissues of classic Fortune cuts and lesser known Avin, Sport, & Wingate recordings also started surfacing on a handful of compilation albums and compact discs, each one drenched in mojo.
In 2001, Andre jumped back over to Norton for the release of his doo-wop rooted Bait & Switch, featuring more all star guest. This album featured Ronnie Spector, Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite) and Robert Quine, the Patti Smith Group guitarist famous for compiling the first NUGGETS compilation. A couple of years later he was backed by frantic garage funk supplied by Dutch rockers Green Hornet on the live album Holland Shuffle. Andre Williams returned to Bloodshot in 2008 for Can You Deal With It?, backed by The New Orleans Hellhounds, featuring keyboards by none other than Mr. Quintron. The vinyl version of the album came with a 7" Williams cut with Jack White.
The new Bloodshot recording, That’s All I Need, was released this year on May 18th. Members of the band were culled from the Dirtbombs, The Sights and Electric Six. He boldly opens the album in slinky blues mode with "My Time Will Come," still full of piss and vinegar at 74. That's ok, all Andre needs is "Cigarettes and My Old Lady": "A cigarette makes me choke, my old lady makes me broke," he sings, still talking through that sly baritone over a stripped down jangly number. The disco sweat pumps out the nasty funk in "Tricks," suggesting that you need a bag of them to get by, to keep your woman, to get high. Andre channels science like a black William S. Burroughs. Like Burroughs, Williams has come to a place where he has had to put the drugs down. He declares, "There Ain't No Such Thing As Good Dope"—maybe the best straight edge song since Minor Threat. It's a lot funkier!
On August 16th, we are in for the greatest of pleasures with the first Utah appearance of Mr. Rhythm, Andre Williams. We are doubly blessed that the show is in a smaller venue (The Urban Lounge) and with a bigger band than he usually takes out west. Local roots rock phenoms The Rubes will be playing in a rare, super-charged big band version of their stew of 50s fueled madness. Alert all badasses, swing dancers, pimps, teddies, dolls, dames, and dimes, as a Soul Legend makes his way to us to discover what black mojo can do for you.