A maverick to the core, Andre Williams has done it all over close to six decades in the recording industry: singing, dancing, songwriting, producing, and doo-wopping.
Born in Bessemer, Alabama on November 1, 1936, Andre moved to Chicago's South Side with his folks in 1941. At age 16, he was a member of The Cavaliers, then graduated to The Five Thrills, who cut in 1953-54 for deejay Al Benson's Parrot label. Williams' Navy adventures took him to San Diego, where comic Redd Foxx gave him his nickname of 'Mr. Rhythm.' "I wasn't a hell of a singer, so I could make up for it by dancing and doing the splits," says Andre. Williams ended up in Detroit with The Five Dollars, who cut for Jack and Devora Brown's Fortune Records.
Fortune was a shoestring operation. "It was so small that the storeroom was a studio," says Williams. "They were using the record boxes that the records came in, they were using that as sound acoustics." The Five Dollars debuted on Fortune in 1955 with the weird Harmony Of Love, which had no lyrics, just harmonizing. Andre led their followup Going Down To Tia Juana, which had words; it came out late that year with Pulling Time on the flip, credited to Andre Williams with The Don Juans. The billing held for a Williams-fronted It's All Over b/w Bobby Jean in 1956.
Andre recruited a different outfit, imaginatively called 'His New Group,' for his first national hit as a vocalist: tenors Geno Purifoy (aka Parks) and Stave Gaston, baritone Bobby Calhoun, and bass Jay Johnson. Williams dreamed up one of the most laidback rock and roll dance songs ever, Bacon Fat. "We had been going back and forth to this particular club, the Flamingo, in Memphis," he says. "There was two-lane highways then. And you could see these cotton pickers all on the side of the road. We would stop and kid around with them, then go up to their house and drink lemonade and eat. And I just came up with the song about cotton pickers. And I was eatin' a bacon sandwich. I just tapped it out, and I was coming up with the words, and I had the bacon in my hand, and folks with sacks on their backs."
Paired with an eerie Just Because Of A Kiss, Fortune issued Bacon Fat in November of '56 and it started to take off locally. Epic Records, a subsidiary of Columbia, released it nationally the following month on the recommendation of Detroit deejay Bristol Bryant, resulting in a #9 entry on 'Billboard's' R&B 'Best Seller' lists in early '57. Andre stayed at Fortune with the fabulously bizarre Jail Bait and The Greasy Chicken.
He got in the ground floor at Motown only to fall out with Berry Gordy (several times), returned to Chicago and produced hits for The Five Du-Tones and Alvin Cash, worked A&R for Mercury's Blue Rock logo (where he produced Sir Mack Rice's original Mustang Sally), and cut another hit of his own for Chess in '68, the streetwise Cadillac Jack. Andre subsequently battled drug abuse and homelessness, triumphantly reemerging as sartorially splendiferous and lascivious as ever.