Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chewing The Bacon Fat: Andre Williams

Andre Williams began his career in music singing with groups like The Cavaliers in Chicago on creatively extended weekend furloughs from the Navy, where he served alongside a young Redd Foxx, and when he was discharged for being only 15, he tried his fortunes in Detroit - at the little Fortune Records label, located behind a barbershop.

Here is where he gained his opportunity to gain experience of song-writin
g, and more importantly, of studio production: "...not only figuring out how records was made, it brought me to the realization that I could write! I didn't have no prior musical training, but I could put those damn songs together in five or ten minutes."

Andre got busy creating dozens of hit records, and he began each with the same concept in mind:
" I'll tell you somethin' fellows, the first line of communications was the drums. That was in Africa, the Congos, the Mongos, and all them 'gos. When they was doin' communications, it was with the drums. So if I could get a drum rhythm which captivates people and put a hell of a story on top of it, I can't lose. And that's where I went."

That was the concept behind such hits at Fortune as Bacon Fat and Jail Bait. Recorded in 1957, they stand out for their take on the seamy side of life, and for Williams vocal delivery. How did Bacon Fat's lyric come about?:

"When I came up with "Bacon Fat" I was travelling from Detroit to Memphis. That's when I knew that I had to come up with a gimmick. So I stopped in Memphis and I got an egg and bacon sandwich - on toast! I'm driving and a lot of places where we used to travel, it was only a two lane highway so you'd see the cotton pickers on both sides and I'm driving and [starts tapping a beat on his thigh, starts humming] "Down in Tennessee... and the name of the dance is..." and I had the sandwich in my hand and there it came, "The Bacon Fat!"

As for the talking style, often cited as a forerunner of rap, it came partly from necessity, and partly from Andre spotting how to make his own mark:
"With all these guys singing acapella, I knew I couldn't cut the mustard with that. I've always been a survivor; I've always been able to look ahead and see disaster coming. I said to myself, "Andre, you gon' have to come up with a gimmick, or these people are gonna spot you, and you gonna go down the tubes, because you cannot sing like these people. You ain't no Clyde McPhatter, you ain't no Nolan Strong, you ain't Pookie Hudson, you cannot sing like these guys. You gotta come up with somethin'...Nobody knew that I was gonna talk this record...They pressed the record and, bingo, that was it! I said, "Okay, now I got it; now the only thing I got to do is talk about all these bad times that I had, and I should be able to have me a lengthy career."

Sadly, according to the research of Marv Goldberg, who has interviewed many of the people involved, Bacon Fat did not lead to fame and fortune for all of its participants. For the singing group The 5 Dollars, for whom Andre was supposedly a nominal fifth member, and who had written the tune and sung the backing vocals, it threw fat on the fire in their relationship with Fortune. When the record actually was released, it was no longer Andre Williams and The Five Dollars (or even 'The Don Juans', the pseudonym Andre had encouraged them to adopt for some of their recordings and shows - wearing handkerchief masks) but Andre Williams & His New Group - and the backing voices were somebody else. They belonged to another Detroit group, The Dexatones. The original take with the 5 Dollars does somewhere exist, since Fortune Records used to keep the tapes running constantly to capture anything they might use for a quick release. However, the version we all know is the one released on Columbia/Epic.

In 1961, he met up with Berry Gordy, and was hired to act as both an A&R man, writer and producer. It seems to have been a kind of love-hate relationship!:

"I could never conform to his way of doing business, and I could never be a yes-man and suck up to him, so he fired me! But when he'd fire me, then he'd get a guilty conscience or something, and he call me back. I'd go back and work maybe six or seven months, then mess up again and he'd fire me again …" Despite the temporary disagreements over business, Gordy could not deny the genius that Andre brougth to Motown, and Andre produced dozens of hits for the likes of Mary Wells, The Contours, Stevie Wonder, and later for groups like The Chi-Lites.

So when Andre Williams knew when he encountered Alvin Cash and his brothers in the Budland Dance Club, he knew that he had another vehicle for his unique style of rhythm-heavy, direct vocals r&b, and the Cash brothers should have realised their good fortune. Sadly, it seems that Alvin Cash didn't feel the same about his mentor. Andre Williams explains in an interview with Joss Hutton for in 2001: " I wrote the song ["Shake A Tailfeather"] originally for the Five Du-Tones, a vocal band and I also recorded it with Alvin Cash (and the Registers). I also did "Twine Time" with him. When I cut Alvin and I got a hit on him, the same way the American system works, the white boys moved in and he chose a white producer. You know, "We're gonna make you a star, why don't you go with us?" and then, when comes session time, Alvin doesn't want Andre to produce it. What a dumb motherfucker! I mean, I would've always stuck with the cat that got me there in the first place! But he wanted to go with them. Alvin needs producing 'cause there's no talent there, he's just a voice on a record you know!" Even if Alvin didn't realise what Andre could do with a record, others like Berry Gordy, watching a Williams song hit for another label, certainly did!: "Berry'd send a telegram sayin', "Come back to Detroit!" (laughs) You know? Everytime I'd catch a hit like "Twine Time," he'd send for me, because he didn't want his soldiers out there. He was a selfish cat."

Andre Williams took that genius for hit-making on to Chess and Duke-Peacock before things got out of his control after a gruelling 18-month stint working with Ike Turner led to a spiral of drug addiction, and eventually saw Andre homeless. In the mid 90s, Andre Williams was back recording. On his latest album in an ongoing career, Andre hired guitarist Bobby Quine. Bobby Quine is quoted as saying: "Now I've worked with two geniuses: Lou Reed and Andre Williams."

Funny he should say that...
Williams idiosyncratic vocal delivery seems to have had an influence in one of the unlikeliest of places. A young guitar player from Long Island, soon to make his way to New York City to become a company songwriter for Pickwick Records in the Brill Building, absorbed a great deal of ideas and techniques from listening to songs like Bacon Fat and Jail Bait. Lou Reed, soon to form the avante-garde rock band The Velvet Underground, adopted some of Andre's style for almost improvisational lyrics, lacsadaiacal delivery, slurring and deadpan asides. You can hear Andre's laid back 'Lord have mercy!' from Bacon Fat echoed on Lou's 'Temptation Inside Of Your Heart' along with a whole background of extemporisation, and the word association of Jail Bait is echoed in 'Murder Mystery'. 'She looks so good, just like a young girl should' is used by Lou in one of his live numbers 'Sweet Bonnie Brown'. If the only band The Velvet Underground ever wanted to be able to play like was Booker T & The MGs, then Lou wanted to be singing in front like Andre Williams.

Andre continues recording. The Five Dollars had a well-recieved reunion in 1999. Sadly, in 2006, pianist Joe Weaver, featured on Bacon Fat, passed away.

Well, I've been chewing the fat for long enough. Now it's your turn:

Andre Williams - Bacon Fat (Fortune/Epic) 1957

All Andre Williams quotes are taken from an interview with Joss Hutton for , and from an interview by Dan Epstein for Ugly Things magazine. John Nova Lomax at Cleveland Scene magazine has also collated together several other Andre Williams interviews from recent years. The story behind the story of the recording of Bacon Fat, and the role of the The 5 Dollars, is revealed in full by Marv Goldberg, in another one of his fabulous R&B Notebooks. 5 Dollars photos belong to Marv Goldberg and to group member Charlie Evans. ALvin Cash photo shared by Mel(andthensome) on SOulful Detroit forum.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's Twine Time!: Alvin Cash And The Registers

"The Twine, which is the title of this album, is a dance started in one of Chicago's High Schools. It is the consensus of opinion that Dunbar High School students started the dance.
Herb 'The Cool Gent' Kent, WVON deejay, popular with teenagers, picked up the name at one of his regular record hops and started talking about the WOODBINE TWINE (the title of our newest release by the Five Du-Tones). Bill Cody, who has taught choreography and dancing in and around Chicago for many years to most of the singing groups, saw the dance and brought it to the attention of Mar-V-Lus' A&R man, Andre Williams. Andre saw the dance and felt the beat - grabbed Alvin Cash and the Registers, and bingo, the rest is history. Alvin Cash, the leader of the Crawlers dance group has been on the entertainment scene as a dancer and entertainer for thirteen years. Alvin was born in St. Louis, Missouri, is now 23 years old. At the age of 10, Alvin became a close associate of his Uncle Bill Robinson Jr., who was a well known dancer in the St. Louis area; and soon after, became a part of his uncle's act. Later, when Alvin's brothers, Robert (now 16) and George (now 15), were 7 and 8 respectively, they joined him as part of his act. Robert 'B Q', a radio personality at KATZ in St. Louis, named the act (because of their ages) THE CRAWLERS. Alvin, unmarried, lives in Chicago. George and Robert, who are still attending Sumner High School, St. Louis, Missouri, commute to Chicago every weekend to work in various clubs, returning to St. Louis on Sunday for classes on Monday."

- liner notes to Mar-V-Lus LP 1827, "Twine Time" released in 1965.

The weather is still fine, and summer has not left us behind, it's time to dance but one thing is on my mind: How do you do The Twine?

I don't know about you, but not having lived through the Sixties, and living far from the talcum powdered dancefloors of northern soul, I have immense difficulties in strutting my stuff. I hear a record, my body wants to move, but I am reduced to one of three options: propping up the bar for another pint; gyrating wildly in a freestyle form of funky James Brown dance which results in injuries for other dancers; or the intense,
solo dance, comprising lots of shuffling and spinning, that for some reason third-generation mods like me seem to think should accompany Green Onions.

What I really would like to be able to do is to dance The Bop, The Watusi, The Cool Jerk, The Boston Monkey, The Birdland, The Sissy Strut, The Popeye, The Funky Penguin, or just Shake A Tailfeather. The trouble is, I have never actually come across anybody who knew how any of these dances go. I suppose there is the Twist, and the Mashed Potato, but surely things used to be more exciting than that? Where did all the dancers go? Nowadays, there seem to be more people interested in learning the foxtrot than in knowing what to do when somebody yells, "It's Twine Time!". When Land Of A Thousand Dances comes on, you'll find me propping up the bar again, watching other people go, "Well, I know how to , um, and do the .. well, ..."

I am still no nearer to finding out just exactly how to dance the Twine. Maybe Sis Detroit can enlighten us?:

"I was once in a boogaloo contest in a backyard party (twenty-five cents to enter the gate.) But I was a young teen-ager. When the jerk came out, I was an older teen, and I had slowed down a bit, but tried to hang in there. The twine was quite easy, but the older I got, the less I danced, and the more I just listened and observed."

This sounds slightly reassuring, as I am now at the tender age of 34, and need to consider slipped discs, hernias etc. Meanwhile, Joe Nawrozki, a writer for the Baltimore Sun, attests to the powers of The Twine when far from home:

"I would see this again years later, stinky and scared young guys dancing to candlelight in a sandbagged Vietnam bunker, serenaded by a tropically-warped Temptations album. That
dancing was integrated [unlike in clubs in Baltimore] and I learned how to do the boomerang, shing-a-ling, the skate and the twine time. Dance was a brief connection with home for us, time out from the insanity of war."

So what is the story behind The Twine?

Alvin Cash (real name Alvin Welch) was I believe the eldest of eight children. Alvin, Arthur, George, and Robert formed a song and dance act and called themselves The Four Steps or the The Step Brothers. Alvin wanted to try to get into music, and encouraged his brothers to visit him in Chicago for dance gigs and competitions. As a dance group they were very successful. They renamed themselves The Crawlers, while Alvin formed a band of his own called the Nightlighters. It was while the Crawlers were dancing at the Budland Dance Club in Chicago that Andre Williams spotted them, and decided to try Alvin out at Mar-V-Lus back in Chicago.

The other brothers in the Crawlers were not featured on the record that came out of this, Twine Time, written by Andre Williams and Verlie Rice, following on from the tune Woodbine Twine by The Five Du-Tones. All being much younger than Alvin, nobody could quite see how they would fit together as an r&b group performing for adults. That is all bar one. While Andre was taken by Alvin's singing skills, flambouyancy and sharp, colourful dress sense, it is another brother, George, to whom much of the credit should go for crafting the dance we know as The Twine. Don on the Soulful Detroit forums recalls:

George was the person who originated the dance moves named The Twine that Alvin adapted ... Since George was a dancer he would make up the dance routines, or would make better routines out of any regions dance moves. If anyone ever saw Alvin Cash do a concert you know what I mean."

George was so talented he is alleged to have shown Major Lance and others how to improve their moves. Not only that, but despite his young age at the time, George was know locally as a remarkable drummer, playing with local group The Vows. He could even dance at the same time, and once, opening a concert for Frank Sinatra with the Four Steps, he was invited back on to play some drums by Frank himself, while tapping! According to Don, George's drumming was so good that "[it]... even made Sammy Davis, Jr said wow!" So it is George you can hear keeping the beat on The Twine Time and many other Alvin Cash recordings. Only trouble was, due to his age, George would have to be snuck into clubs and snuck back out again as soon as the set was over:

"Since George being young, he couldn't stand around or mingle in the area because he was underage, and would have to stay in the back before the shows began and during intermissions and after."

While George was too young to latch onto the fame that went with Alvin Cash and The Registers, he went on to play drums with a number of groups, including Mothers' Finest, and continued playing with The Vows. He is married to Berniece Willis of The Kittens.

Ladies and gentlemen, you don't need to check your watches, I'll tell you what time it is!

Alvin Cash & The Registers - Twine Time (Mar-V-Lus 6002)

Alvin Cash & The Registers - Twine Awhile (from Mar-V-Lus MLP 1827)

Information from liner notes, and from the informative posts of Mel(andthensome),
Sis Detroit, Randy Russi, and most especially Don on the Soulful Detroit forums

Friday, September 07, 2007

He Meant Well: Say It One More Time For Kip Anderson 1941 - 2007

Born January 24, 1941 in Anderson, South Carolina; died Wednesday August 29th 2007

Today's post is going to add to the other tributes that have been presented about Kip Anderson, who died after recent heart problems in his home town of Anderson, South Carolina.
The title of this post comes from an interview with Kip for The Beat magazine by Dan Armonaitis in 2003. When asked what he would like to be remembered for, Kip replied that he would ask for his tombstone simply to read: "He meant well". By all accounts, Kip Anderson was a gentle and kind individual, and devoted a great deal of his time helping others in the community. In part this was inspired by the pitfalls that he himself had encountered in his life that almost derailed his musical career, and by the individuals who, when he had reached a low point, offered him a lifeline.

Dan's article is well worth the time reading for its detailed summary of Kip's life and career, as well as the personal anectdotes which Kip revealed to him in their interviews: amongst the highlights of which is, what Sam Cooke used to do to the unsuspecting Blind Boys of Alabama while driving their car to a gig. With Kip's input, the article spans from his early years playing piano for gospel groups in Anderson and his big break playing for gospel legend Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke, to his move into r&b recording, to his movements from label to label looking for the big hit, which came closest with I Went Off And Cried, on which Kip Anderson uttered the legendary phrase 'say it one time for the broken-hearted.' It then records the struggles Kip had through the 1970s trying to beat an addiction and cope with the stresses of incarceration, and the way in which, thanks to a prison warden who happened to be an old school friend, Kip got the chance to discover how music could transform other people's lives as well as his own. His well-deserved career renaissance saw him feted in both the local gospel and the beach music audiences.
Without A Woman, a release on Checker Records for Chess, was the first Kip Anderson song I ever heard, and precisely the sixth soul record I had ever heard. It can't fail to hit the mark as a quintessential deep southern soul number, being written by Quin Ivy and Dan Penn and recorded at FAME.

Kip Anderson - Without A Woman (Checker Records) 1966

For more information on Kip Anderson, go to the Dan Armonaitis article.