Report: Wild Men of Rock Live in Houston

 

Andre Williams, Archie
Bell, Roy Head, and Little Joe Washington descended upon Houston’s Continental Club on Sept. 3 and
proceeded to tear some shit up.

 

By Steven Rosen

At age 74, Andre Williams (pictured above) is just coming
into his own as a Great American Singer. He’s part Leonard Cohen and part James
Brown, capable of expressing in the most impassioned way possible his primal
needs of the moment, yet also willing to step back with cool romantic, poetic
demeanor and consider the effect his words of love have on his enthralled
audience.

 

Take, for instance, the version of “Let Me Put It In” he performed,
with backing from Allen Oldies Band, at Houston’s
funky, spacious Continental Club, where he headlined a “Wild Men of Rock” revue. Looking dapper and calm in a white
double-breasted suit, wearing a smiling Buddha-like countenance as well as a fine
mustache, he introduced the song to his fans, many college age or just modestly
older, with an aside about past trouble with police trying to perform it.

 

Then he intoned the song’s title pleadingly, softly
promising that “I’ll buy you a car” to his imaginary subject. And then, WHAM!
He screamed out the title line, again and again, as if it was the only thing
that mattered in the world. He dropped to his knees as the band slashed out its
supporting rock with all the power it could muster. It was soul music, raw and
unpretentious, and the crowd pushed forward to the stage as if pulled by a
giant magnet. And then Williams let up, returned to his quiet pleading, looking
slightly amused at his power over the masses. And then he did it all again. It
was pure dynamism and he knew it.

 

He was the headliner of this show, and was treated like
royalty. When he eventually left the stage, after “Mustang Sally,” the band
offered him shouts of “Hallelujah.” Williams has been around rock and soul’s
edges for a long, long time. He recorded for Michigan’s Fortune Records in the 1950s, his
songs having enough of a naughty edge (“Jailbait”) to not get much airplay then
but to appeal to collectors today. He wrote a couple 1960s classics (“Shake a
Tail Feather” and “Twine Time”) for others, fell into hard times in the 1980s,
and then started to find his way back in the 1990s.

 

Often working with bluesy punk-soul acts on songs that
sometimes had sexually explicit lyrics, he developed a cult following. He has
used that to grow in popularity, through a series of fine Bloodshot albums and
even a book, Sweets and Other Stories. What’s
critical to know about Williams is that, unlike Blowfly or Clarence Carter
vamping through “Strokin,'” Williams “dirty” material isn’t a smutty joke. It’s
his take on the rawness of real life and sexuality’s place in it. He just omits
the jive and politeness. As a result, the tunes he performed in Houston, like “Agile, Mobile and Hostile,” “Bacon Fat” and
Goin’ Down to Tijuana,”
come off as serious as a heart attack. They’re soul tunes without compromise.

 

But, then, there’s also a detachment that lets you know he’s
the artist working the crowd. For example, with a smile on his face, looking
cool, calm and collected, Williams stood on stage while the band (“four of the
best motherfuckers I’ve ever played with,” he announced) worked through a
pleasant instrumental turn. At the right moment, Williams stepped forward,
hands gesticulating like a serene conductor, and sang “Pussy stank/but so do marijuana,” It’s beyond criticism.

 

Of the others on the bill, the diminutive, gray-dreadlocked
and -bearded Little Joe Washington, who opened, is a Houston favorite, a blues
guitarist who slowly works up his energy to show off some dazzling, tricky
guitar work. And Archie Bell, a Texan whose Drells had a couple classic
dance-tunes-with-attitude-hits in the 1960s like “Tighten Up”, does a solo act
now where he doesn’t mind letting you know how hard he’s working. His voice
wasn’t the best, but he handled the crowd well and was proud he can still do
it. “I’m 67 years old and I still know how to ‘Tighten Up,”’ he announced at
one point, and the words were inspirational to the older members of the
audience who were there because they “Can’t Stop Dancing” (the title of another
Drells hit). And he also did “Mustang Sally.”

 

One of Houston’s
favorite sons and a soul-shouting wild man, Roy Head of “Treat Her Right” fame,
supposedly was appearing to perform from a new album – his first of new
material in decades. He was the night’s second act. But he did nothing to
promote it nor were copies for sale, so it remains a mystery if that album is
out there or not. Head, at 68, obviously is a little older and slower (and
bigger) than the thin gymnast who memorably did splits and tossed and turned
about like a jumping bean on television appearances in 1965, when “Treat Her
Right” was a hit. He wore a green paisley shirt and sweated as much as he
smiled, apologizing for a frog in his voice between songs. But it didn’t
noticeably diminish his volume as he squealed and roared his way through the
likes of “Lucille,” “Just a Little Bit” and “She’s About a Mover” as the Allen
Oldies Band pushed him on.

 

He also did some scary-thrilling microphone-twirling toward
the band and crowd – scary because an advance in the local arts paper warned
he’s been known to have faulty control and once almost robbed a watching critic
of his family jewels; thrilling because he kept control. Considering that
Head’s forte is rootsy, sweaty, roadhouse rock, it was surprising he tackled
Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” It wasn’t maybe the best kind of song for his
persona, but there was honesty when he sang “Here I am, back on the road
again.” You felt for Head. He was still doing it.

 

By the way, Head took a break before finishing with a
no-holds-barred “Treat Her Right,” and his son Sundance came out to sing a few
blues-rock standards with the Allen Oldies Band behind him. And wouldn’t you
know it? One was “Mustang Sally.” Three times in one night. That’s wild,
indeed.

 

 

 

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