Dirty Mind

After more than three decades in the wilderness, Andre Williams reclaims his kingdom of raunch

Williams' most promising work involved his series of early '60s duets with Gino Parks, on tracks like "Greasy Chicken" and "My Tears." Williams recalls, "This was right before Sam & Dave; we were moving in that direction." But when Parks left the duo, Williams felt scared and insecure. He'd always had a group or another singer with him, and he didn't have the confidence to step out on his own.

"I couldn't handle it by myself 'cause I couldn't walk out there by myself and do what needed to be done," he says. "I was always the glue that could put a whole group together, 'cause I could fill in all their weak spots."

After he and Parks split, Williams quit performing. He struggled to make a living, doing production and writing work--most prominently the classic dance track "Shake a Tailfeather"--and leasing masters to record companies. Williams describes his long absence from the stage as "a depressing period" where he struggled to make a living any way he could. At times, he wasn't sure he'd make it.

"I had to come out of the drug treatment, come out of the gutter," he says. "I had to experience everything going down to the bottom. I knew every level."

Eventually, Williams landed on his feet and started performing again. He found that a new generation of hedonist garage rockers worshiped the raw sexuality of his old recordings. At a time when so many musicians learn all the right notes but never find the right feel, Williams stood out as an authentic wild man. In a sense, he became to R&B what R.L. Burnside is to Delta blues: an unappreciated veteran whose stature had grown as the real deal became harder and harder to find.

Among his fans are the Demolition Doll Rods, who approached him after a gig at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Doll Rods had grown up in the suburbs of Detroit, and they'd been Andre Williams fans for years. They subsequently introduced Williams to Larry Hardy, the head of their label, In the Red. By this point, Williams had cut an album called Greasy for Hasil Adkins' tiny Norton label. When Hardy approached him about recording for In the Red, Williams figured it was worth a shot.

"The maturity is there now," he says. "The fear is there. You have to fear, you have to recognize that you can't go around fearless, because fear is a part of some of your safety mechanism. I've cut more paths through that forest than Jim Bowie or Daniel Boone."

Williams sees Silky as the album he always wanted to make, a dirty dose of unvarnished R&B. With backing from some of Williams' young rock acolytes, Silky sounds perfectly in tune with the lo-fi garage rock of Jon Spencer, the Oblivians, Flat Duo Jets, or Doo Rag. What Williams brings to the table is a vocal command that none of those groups can match.

"When I come in, it's a party, it's a thing," he says. "These young kids have been blowing my mind."

Williams looks at his current rejuvenation as the big payback for his long years in the wilderness, and he's not taking anything for granted.

"Many a day I really hated that I got into this," he says. "But now here I'm 61, and it's paying off. So that lets me know that the Book of Job didn't lie. It takes patience. You've got to wait your turn, and then you've gotta be sincere. That's what I'm about, man. I do 140 percent on every show. I don't take the money and run."

Andre Williams is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, July 7, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, with the Countdowns, and the Markdowns. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.

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