By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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Andre Williams doesn't mince words. He doesn't have time for that. He's seen a promising R&B career go up in smoke, he's fallen victim to drug addiction, and he's spent more time hustling his way out of the gutter than he'd care to remember. So when this resuscitated soul man sings, he sings of his urges, in the most blatant terms.
Even at a young age, Williams was known for the frank sexuality of his music, in cult classics like "Jailbait" and "Bacon Fat." But now, at 63, this secret hero of gritty rhythm and blues is making his raunchy young incarnation seem positively tame. His music has one message: He's horny and he wants to do something about it.
"If my songs offend you, then you got my apology up front," the libidinous one says from his Queens, New York, home. "I'm just telling you the real deal, 'cause somebody out there knows what I'm saying. You might not want nobody to know while you're sitting next to your wife or girlfriend, but it's there. She knows it and you know it, but neither of you wants to admit that both of you know it."
With The Sadies
Williams' 1998 album, Silky, on the California-based In the Red Records, is his most potent declaration of intent, an affirmation that none of those wild young garage rockers who admire him so much can get as down and dirty as he can. The album cover features Williams' outstretched hand touching a woman's bare bottom, an image that would make even the Dirty Mind-era Prince blush.
Even so, the cover offers only a hint of what Williams has on his mind. With "Agile, Mobile & Hostile," he defines the three essential traits for effective lovemaking. "Bonin'" gets to brass tacks, with Williams desperately shouting, "Bone me, baby, bone me." With "I Wanna Be Your Favorite Pair of Pajamas," he sets his metaphor machine into overdrive: "I wanna be your favorite lotion/So you can rub me on you every day/I wanna be your favorite toy/So I can be there when you wanna play." On the self-explanatory "Pussy Stank," he sounds like the guy who taught 2 Live Crew's Luke Campbell how to sweet-talk a woman.
As funny and loose as Williams comes off on record, some critics are a bit taken aback by the image of a sexagenarian with more than a passing resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr. unloading his dirtiest sexual fantasies on an unsuspecting microphone. For instance, when Williams joined the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion a couple of months ago for a wild encore at the New York club Tramps, critics were quick to gripe that Williams and Spencer repeated the title, "Lap Dance," approximately a million times. Williams can accept the critiques, but he has a message for those who lose the storytelling skills behind his monumental libido.
"They say 'the sleazy old man, the dirty old man,'" Williams says. "OK, I can buy that, 'cause all of those stars had rauncho tapes out before they got big. Look at Eddie Murphy's Raw. So 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. I'm just so thankful to Most High that I was able to pull myself back and get another shot at it, and it's happening, and it's great."
If rhythm and blues has always been carried by the tension between its gospel roots and its secular desires, no one embodies the contradictions more vividly than Williams. As exuberantly potty-mouthed as he can get in song, in conversation, he relentlessly expresses his devotion to God for carrying him through his tough times. As he puts it, "Most High runs my life." And like most R&B shouters, he learned the ropes singing gospel music in the church.
Williams was born in Bessemer, Alabama, but after his mother died when he was 6, his father moved him back and forth from Alabama to Chicago. In Chicago, he learned what he calls "the real technical gospel singing," and applied it in his first gig, with the doo-wop vocal group The Cavaliers. That led to a stint with the Five Thrills, and after a military stint, he landed in Detroit, where he helped to form the legendary Five Dollars. He says his workaholic tendencies led to the "triple-marketing" of his career, as he often had simultaneous releases out with the Five Dollars, Andre Williams and the Don Juans, or as Mr. Rhythm. As a result, Williams says he'd often have 12 singles out in a year, whereas another artist might have only three. While such market saturation could easily confuse young R&B fans, Williams believes it began to pay dividends for him in the early '60s.
"We were playing this place called the Akron Armory, which wasn't a bad place to play," Williams says. "And we had a fantastic white crowd. It blew our minds because that was the biggest crowd I'd ever performed for at that point. And I knew that something was going on, because we'd done two or three local, white dance-party TV things. So I noticed that something was going on."