restricted access Back in Detroit City with Andre Williams
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117 T he phone rang. “Andre Williams is looking for you. He wants to work with the guys who were working with Nathaniel Mayer. Here’s his number.” I call Andre. Andre immediately says, “What kind of record do you think I ought to make?” Without hesitating, I blurted out, “Well, Mick Jagger’s been trying to sound like you for a long time now. Maybe you ought to do something with a Stones kind of feel.” Andre’s deep baritone, or bass voice, or whatever it actually is,quickly replied,“We will have to pay close attention to what the Rolling Stones have done.” I’d met Andre in 1997, when he was in Detroit recordingthealbumthatwouldlaunchhiscomeback, Silky. At that time, I knew some of his songs from the ’50s, but all I really knew about him was that the Gories liked him. I didn’t have any idea that I was in the presence of a major figure in music history, one of the guys who helped invent rock ’n’roll, as well as a few other genres. I was in the studio, recording an album called Michigan Babylon with Hollywood legend Kim Fowley, when I was told that Andre Williams had arrived in Detroit and was writing songs with the guys from the Gories.Kim Fowley had a gig coming up at the Magic Stick that week,so he invited Andre to perform onstage with him. Kim, of course, knew exactly who Andre was: “Isn’t he Mr. Rib-Eye?” Mr. Rhythm actually, although he did make a record called “Rib Tips.” Andre showed up and performed “Let Me Put It in,” which he had just written with Mick Collins and Dan Kroha. Andre looked great and sounded great. He was dressed like someone who had just stepped out of a time machine from the 1940s. Perhaps he’d had a few drinks and done a few drugs throughout the years, but his magnetism and talent were obviously intact. It must have been the first time anyone in Detroit had seen Andre Williams on a stage in at least thirty years.Suddenly, Andre found himself connected to a new generation of rock ’n’ roll fans and musicians. After a week of recording and other rock ’n’ roll madness with Mr. Fowley, I got a phone call from Mick Collins requesting that I play guitar on a country and western song that Andre wanted to record. They were recording an album in the same studio where I’d been producing Kim Fowley, Ghetto Recorders. It was a new studio built into what appeared to be a former slaughterhouse located above a 1920s movie palace. You would walk up an abnormally long staircase, built as a kind of secret passageway, into an expansive apartment that used to belong to some fugitive or drug kingpin or something, and through another corridor into a kitchen sent through a time warp from the 1970s, and then beyond that into a large room with concrete walls that was now a recording studio. The studio room looked like the Warhol factory after a burglary. Stuff strewn everywhere. A refreshingly chaotic environment where nobody bothered with “getting sounds” or any of that other useless stuff that generally happens in studios where making Back in Detroit City with Andre Williams Matthew Smith 118 early deTroıT soul records is an endlessly expensive and frustrating process. The engineer, Jim Diamond, was probably the last guy in music history to actually be trained in the engineering secrets of the ’50s and ’60s. He still edited tape with a razor blade,and the tape machines looked like props from an old Twilight Zone episode. The technology in this place was being put to use in a way that was hermetic and surreal, compared to the way other recording studios in the ’90s were doing things. Andre was dressed appropriately for the hot and totally uncomfortable Detroit summer weather, in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. He was squinting through reading glasses at a bunch of scrawled lyric sheets. Right away, Andre started to tell me how, back when he was working in the cotton fields of the south and listening to Hank Snow on the radio, he’d always wanted to sing a country and western song. I started to play a cowboy chord progression on the guitar, and suddenly we were recording, and all the musicians joined in, playing this nice midtempo country riff. Andre opened his mouth and...

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