Tribute To Paul Williams 8-16-12

On Thursday August 16, 2012…

I had the pleasure of having lunch with and then having on my “BLUES & THE BEAT” radio program, not only a great drummer who has played with the likes of Lester Young, Chuck Berry, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Jackie Wilson, Willis Jackson (and many others), but the son of one of the TRUE pioneers of R&B and Rock & Roll, and one of my biggest musical influences – Earl Williams – son of saxophonist Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams!

Listen to this radio program below…

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Rock & Roll Pioneer

Paul Williams is mainly remembered for his recording of “The Hucklebuck” in Dec 1948, which made big waves in 1949. This was based on a composition from the 1920’s called “D Natural Blues” but no one had such success with it until Paul Williams and his band came up with their own arrangement and new version, and named it after the dance people would instantly do upon hearing this song during live performances. This became a crossover hit (on the charts not just as a race record) and before you know it, everyone was jumping on the “Hucklebuck” bandwagon. Artists such as Roy Milton, Tommy Dorsey, Chubby Checker, Frank Sinatra and countless others tried to hit the charts with their versions, but Paul Williams’ version proved to be the biggest hit, with 32-week on the charts.

As if recording “The Hucklebuck” with all of it’s chart and crossover success wasn’t enough, Paul Williams was the first (and ONLY) band to play the first Rock & Roll Concert put on by legendary and ground-breaking Rock & Roll DJ Alan Freed in 1952 (“The Moondog Coronation Ball”). After a few minutes of music by Paul Williams and his band, the crowds were getting out of control and “gate crashing” which cause such a commotion the fire marshals stopped the concert shortly after it began! Paul Williams was there, peforming and blowing up a storm, and was the ONLY act to perform at Alan Freed’s first “Rock & Roll” concert!

Paul Williams also lead a band backing up many of the great R&B artists on the road from the mid-1950’s into the 1960’s. Artists such as Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Amos Milburn, Jimmy Brown, and many more. And one listen to his swingin’ rockin’ baritone sax will tell you that nobody arranged for this type of jump blues and played that low register like him!

Earl Williams, son and drummer

Earl Williams has a respectful and impressive career in his own right…performing in the Detroit area starting in his teens, joining his father’s band in the late 1950’s, and touring all around with the band backing up some of the great R&B artists of the day, recording and performing with the Joe Weaver Orchestra (which also included the great Johnnie Bassset back then), and still performing through today! A true musician, with so many good stories of first-hand accounts with so many important artists in American R&B history, and a true gentleman. I look forward to having Earl Williams on my “BLUES & THE BEAT” radio program again to talk more about his OWN career and music…

My discovery of Paul Williams and a new vision…

Early in my blues journey I had discovered how much I loved swingin’ horns, especially the saxophone. Even though I am a harmonica player, I gravitated towards rocking’ and swingin’ saxophone from the likes of Illinois Jacquet, Red Prysock, Willis Jackson, Tab Smith and others. One of the earliest saxophone LPs I bought had featured the music of Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams on one whole side of an LP. From the first room-wobbling notes of “The Twister” I was hooked, and little did I know, my musical vision was being altered forever!

I had heard some great sax players in blues, R&B and swing, but this was on the big baritone horn, and MAN, what a sound! So big, full and rich…it LITERALLY moved you! Needless to say I tried to track down everything I could find recorded by this Mr. Williams, including some of the old 78s on the Savoy label. Up to that point, I had always loved swing and jump blues (along with Chicago blues of course) and this swingin’ baritone playing pushed me closer to the sound I had heard in my head. Eventually, for playing jump blues styles, I had been custom-ordering special low-tuned Hohner Marine Band 10-hole diatonic harmonicas…custom-made for me from the top harmonica technicians around (Joe Filisko & Richard Sleigh)…so I can get a big, low sound similar to what I heard on those Paul Williams’ records. This style of low-tuned harmonica was not available on the market anywhere, nor were harmonica players utilizing this concept, but the playing of Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams (and later also Leo Parker) had pushed me to realize one of the sounds I wanted to go after.

In recent years, Hohner came out with the new “Thunderbird” harmonicas (with yours truly on the box), a new low-tuned series of professional grade Marine Band style harmonicas, based on this 10-hole low-tuned Marine Band concept which I had been utilizing for many years…and in no small way influenced and inspired by Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams!