Interview: R&B Porn Godfather Andre Williams on Why Coke-Dealing Stories Are Better Than Alcoholic Tales, His New Book Sweets, and More
"I have lived like a king, and I have lived like a bum, and I have lived like a tramp."
Andre Williams, the septuagenarian godfather of r&b porn, spits hard-ass truths. He knows no better, having spent large chunks of his life on the streets, addicted to booze, drugs, and flesh.
The Chicago native began his musical career in mid-'50s Detroit, where he cut tracks including "Bacon Fat," "Greasy Chicken," and "Jail Bait." Whether giving the lowdown on a new dance move or swearing off 15-year-old girls, Williams lyrics were dispatched with candor, humor, and verve.
Williams eventually graduated to Motown, where he worked with a young Steveland Hardaway Judkins, who Williams would later nickname Stevie Wonder. A stint writing and recording songs for Chess Records followed, before a partnership with Ike Turner exacerbated Williams's vices and he plunged into a downward spiral.
Williams emerged two decades later, in the mid '90s, with a string of albums, a documentary film, and a dapper new wardrobe. Despite subsequent relapses and poor health, he's maintained a hustler's stamina. The 73-year-old has three new albums in the pipeline and he just released his debut work of fiction, a short-story and poetry collection entitled Sweets, which was edited and published by Miriam Linna, co-owner of Norton Records and short-lived drummer for the Cramps.
I talked with Williams in advance of a reading of his book at St. Mark's Church this Friday, February 5-also featuring cultural critic/underworld chronicler Nick Tosches and Patti Smith guitarist/music critic Lenny Kaye-to hash out the inspiration for his coke-dealing title story, his obsession with women, and whether he'd rather have fame or fortune.
It took a couple of days to get Williams on the phone because of his emergency trips to the hospital. During the wait, this quote from Marah Eakin, one of his recording label's publicists, took on new meaning: "Andre is truly a mystery to us all. He just graces our presence with his suits and cologne and songs."
What've you been in the hospital for?
For years I've been taking Dilantin, and I went to a new doctor and the new doctor overprescribed my dosage. And for almost that whole month I was taking that dosage, I wondered why I was blacking out-everything was going wrong, my whole system was breaking down. And then I went to the doctor just in time to catch it, before it took me out.
I hope you're feeling better.
Oh, I'm feeling great. I'm feeling great.
So I read Sweets. Was it easy or difficult for you to write it?
The [title] story is true, but I colored it up and put different names and different places and everything to where it couldn't be identified. So the only thing I did-the genius that I am, if that's what you want to call it-is I figured out a way to manipulate the real into fiction.
What compelled you to tell the story of a coke-dealing operation?
I talked to Miriam during the time that I was going through this recovery procedure, and Miriam said, "Andre, since you don't have anything to do"-because I wasn't running around drinking and drugging, doing a whole lot of irresponsible things-"why don't you write one of your life episodes?" She said, "Just write it piece-by-piece and I'll try to put it together. Send me four or five pages every week and I'll send you a little cash to carry you along." Without Miriam, it couldn't have happened.
But why a coke-dealing story as opposed to, say, a story about a drunk?
Well, 'cause a coke-dealing story is always more interesting than an alcoholic. A drug-addict story catches the eye and the interest of people more than an alcoholic because of the fact that 80% of the people have an alcoholic person in their family, so that's nothing new. You feel me?
Yeah. To me it seemed like The Wire.
Exactly. You hit it on the head.