Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#640) Andre Williams, Hoods and Shades (Bloodshot Records)
The story of Zephire “Andre” Williams, or as comedian Red Foxx famously nicknamed him, “Mr. Rhythm”, is harsh in its simplicity; yet at the same time it is a complex cautionary tale about how to navigate the streets and traverse the backrooms, back alleys, and juke joints where the blues is a way of life not just a musical genre, and where the means don’t always justify the end, but they certainly can pay the bills.
Andre Williams was “The Man” from his early purple suit wearing days in the mid 1950’s and on into the 1960’s when he was a song slinging crooner working the streets as a writer and a singer. He co-wrote “Twine Time” for Alvin and the Crawlers, and wrote his most famous song “Shake a Tail Feather” which has been covered by dozens of high profile artists including Ike and Tina Turner, Mitch Ryder, and was even rediscovered in the 80’s by The Romantics. With 200+ songs to his credit during this time period, along with the dynamic albeit somewhat salty for mature audiences only stage presence he was developing, the man they called Mr. Rhythm was at the peak of his creative powers.
It was during this prolific period that Williams recorded “Bacon Fat” which was to be his third single for Fortune Records and had the hip hop sing/talk delivery style that is popular in rap music today and earned Mr. Rhythm yet another one of his nick names, “The Grandfather of Rap Music”.
When iconic talk show host David Frost was once interviewing James Brown he asked him what Soul was. “The Father of Soul” responded with a one word answer “Truth”. It was on this “Truth” that Andre Williams built his image, his career and to some extent his life. At the peak of his powers, and following a brief but tumultuous relationship with Barry Gordy and Motown Records, where he co-wrote Stevie Wonder’s first hit “Thank You For Loving Me”, followed by a tour with Ike and Tina Turner, the truth turned around for Mr. Rhythm and bit him in the back side.
In yet another example of the slide into despair and desperation happening at warp speed compared to the struggles of climbing to the top, Williams quickly lost everything to a series of bad business deals, less than wise publishing contracts, and a crippling drug addiction. Throughout most of the 1980’s he was either homeless, begging on the streets of Chicago, or a guest of the government incarcerated for various infractions including drug charges and CD pirating. In other words, there was nowhere to go but up.
It takes a pretty detailed map to get where you are going on the road to redemption and the journey for Andre Williams started with the soul singer taking back his career with the release of some of the choice cuts from his prior life including new versions of “Jail Bait”, “The Greasy Chicken”, and “Pass the Biscuits Please”. The effort while taking baby steps towards revitalizing his career did not propel him to the next level as he had hoped it would and it soon was time for a different angle. A talent was still there but just needed to be repackaged a little differently. The result was a series of releases that became cornerstones of the Sleaze Rock movement that was popular in the day where he released “Silky”, an album that was billed as “the sleaziest album ever”. With song titles like “Bonin”, “Lookin’ Down at You Lookin’ Up At Me”, and “Let Me Put It In”, there shouldn’t be much of a debate.
With Hoods and Shades, released in 2012, full comeback mode is mission accomplished with this the fourth Andre Williams effort for Bloodshot Records. The album continues the return to form of soul stirring funky grooves, Jimmy Smith style Jams, and silky B.B. King laid back guitar riffs. The speak/talk vocal cadence is back reminiscent of the early bucket-of-blood saloon days and for a man that was in desperate need of finding his swagger, the mojo is definitely back. The overall vibe is definitely more laid back than his previous albums and he may have even created a new musical genre here with the storytelling soul vibe with the songs having a definite soul-folk sound to them. The 9 songs on this album were all written or co-written by Williams and Dennis Coffey of Funk Brothers Fame. Weighing in at just about 38 minutes long the album is just about the right length to keep your attention.
The album opens up with “Dirt” an introspective song that features some stellar guitar work and says it like it is. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, you are just dirt. In other words whether you are the good, the bad, or the ugly, we will all end up in the same place. You get the sense here that Williams has been all three in his day.
For me “I’ve Got Money on My Mind” is a little bit of a throw-away song as is “Swamp Dogg’s Hot Spot” where the words are virtually spoken. You get a glimpse here of what life was like prior to his comeback, but this story about his buddy Swamp Dogg could have been left off the album and no one would have missed it.
The title track “Hoods and Shades” is an excellent track with some fine guitar playing. The song gives you a definite insight into Andre Williams’s world along with the people that that inhabit his consciousness both pre and post comeback. The mood on “Mojo Hannah” is about as close as “The Black Godfather” comes to adopting his sleaze rock persona, and also probably not by accident is the most up-beat song on the album. Stopping short of reaching the line-crossing lyrics of his “Silky” days the song does have a ribald tone to it that is amusing and appealing at the same time keeping things at a PG level.
This is one of those albums that will grow on you over time. In listening to it back to back, once while focusing on the vocals and the lyrics, and the second time paying close attention to the instrumentation, my appreciation for the artist and the production value was increased. They both fit together nicely with the drumming particularly impressive doing a nice job keeping up with the time changes of the vocals with a definite jazz feel.
In the end as far as how I feel about this album I am not sure I can sum it up any better than “The Godfather of Soul” himself.
This album is simply “The Truth”.
- Dirt (Williams) 3:13
- A Good Day To Feel Bad (Coffey, Smith, Williams) 4:47
- I’Ve Got Money On My Mind (Williams) 3:33
- Hoods and Shades (Williams) 6:36
- Jaw Dropper (Coffey, Williams) 2:05
- Hu-Matic Man (Coffey, Williams) 3:13
- Mojo Hannah (Williams) 4:18
- Swamp Dogg’S Hot Spot (Williams) 6:15
- Gimme (Williams) 3:17
- Andre Williams – Vocals
- Greasy Carlisi – Bass
- Dennis Coffey – Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar
- Jim Diamond – Bass
- Troy Gregory -Background Vocals
- Dave Shettler - Moog Synthesizer, Background Vocals
- Matthew Smith – Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar
- Don Was – Upright Bass
- Jim White – Drums, Tambourine