Andre Williams has lived the best of times and the worst of times. He took the door of Detroit’s R&B scene right off the hinges in the ’50s, recorded (and scored hits) for Motown and Chess Records in the ’60s, and wrote songs for Stevie Wonder, Ike & Tina Turner, and George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic, to name just a few. Williams was rapping in his laid-back hipster style long before there was rap – he was the consummate ultra-cool sharp-dressed slick and sleazy soulman.
With the music came the lifestyle, and with the lifestyle came plenty of dope and booze. The highlife gave way to the lowlife. By the 1980s, Williams was a homeless junkie.
End of story? Naw – Williams was the real thing right from the beginning; the same grit that helped him make a name for himself in the first place drove him to clean up his act in the ’90s and get back to his music. Andre Williams proved himself to be just as tough of a bastard as he sounded; he’d been down but never totally out – and now he was back. Since then Williams has managed to blur further borders, pushing his way into the worlds of punk and country while maintaining his signature soulful vocal style.
There’s a ton of Williams’ music to dig into if you’ve never experienced the sounds of the self-proclaimed “Black Godfather,” but his latest may be some of his best work ever. That’s All I Need is a cool blend of psych, soul, funk, and rock, proving that Williams may be getting older (he’ll be 74 this November), but he’s not mellowing with age.
Producer/guitarist/arranger Matthew Smith keeps Williams’ voice in the forefront of the mix on That’s All I Need, over top of everything from the gutter disco of “America” to the Big Brother and the Holding Company-style freakout of “Too Light To Fight” and the acoustic apology of “Amends.” On “Just Call Me,” Motown guitar legend Dennis Coffey lets it fly behind and between Williams’ pleas to the gal he’s losing; on “Tricks,” Williams is all cocky swagger over a thumping bass groove, laying down some cool hipster wordplay to let you know he’s the man. On “Cigarettes and My Old Lady” Williams testifies about the two things that are going to “drive me to my grave,” rapping over top of a hip-shake acoustic guitar and tambourine.
Backed by a groove that sounds like a stripped-to-the-frame version of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” Williams clues us in to the fact that “There Ain’t No Such Thing As Good Dope” – and, baby, if you ever wondered what the voice of experience actually sounded like, there it is. Williams has been there.
Lucky for us, he made it back.