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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."

Interview: R&B Porn Godfather Andre Williams on Why Coke-Dealing Stories Are Better Than Alcoholic Tales, His New Book Sweets, and More

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."

This will be bad-ass.
This will be bad-ass.

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.

 

Andre Willams. Photo by Christy Kane
Andre Willams. Photo by Christy Kane

I found it interesting that both "Sweets" and the second story, "I Wanna Know Why," had female protagonists.

My thought was, in this day and age, everybody is interested in women. If you notice there's more women news commentators; there's more women in men's positions. So women have become a point of interest, and many have become an interesting story of struggle.

It would be interesting to write from a woman's perspective, but I think it would be hard because I'm a man.

No, it wouldn't be hard for a man if a man has led women into that. Like, I have pimped in my life. I have made women go through struggles.

You think you've done more females wrong, or more females have done you wrong?

I have allowed more girls to do me wrong in order to realize that I have been done wrong by females. In other words, I had to let experience teach me how to make the next move. In other words, I wanted a female to do this to me so I knew how to do that to the next female. So the answer to your question, I think it was 50-50.

What can we expect of the reading at St. Mark's Church?

The plan is for it to go almost exactly like we doing right now, for me to tell it like it is, like it was, and how I think it's going to be. And keep it all real.

Do you just read, or do you just talk?

Right off the top of my head, just like I'm doing with you.

The folks at Bloodshot Records told me that you're working on a new album. Tell me about it.

Since we're talking truthful, I have three albums being worked on at this time. The first album is the Bloodshot album. It's completed and ready to be dropped a-s-a-p. And I finished the Canadian album-the album that I completed almost two years ago, with Jon Spencer and the Sadies-but it has not come out yet. I'm now presently working on a New Orleans album. I have six tracks finished on that project.

So that's my whole wrap-up. The reason why I'm doing this is that I'm 73 years old, and in case I become disabled, that I can't function financially to take care of myself, I'll have enough product following each other where I can support myself-that I don't just fall into the poorhouse tomorrow.

I saw the Agile Mobile Hostile documentary on you, and you seem like you haven't been given the respect that you deserve. Would you rather have fame or fortune?

This might sound kind of harsh to you: I don't give a fuck. I just care about saying it like I saw it. And whatever comes out of it, I wanna be able to deal with it. If it's a million dollars, I wanna be able to spend it lavishly. If it's ten dollars, I wanna be able to spend it wisely. I have lived like a king, and I have lived like a bum, and I have lived like a tramp. So it don't matter to me how this thing winds up.


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