In 2006 we had the luck to play with André Williams. We are very sad to hear he is gone now.
Here is a chapter from our book High Life that I wrote about our experience with him.
Once a year we are playing a theater in Cologne called Gloria. It is the perfect place, in the perfect size, right in the middle of the city. It is the perfect spot for us to do a show for all the friends and families to celebrate one night “at home”. My idea was to always bring somebody special to join us on stage. One year I had the idea to ask Andre Williams. Even though I had never seen him live I was hooked by that idea. He started his career in the fifties as a rhythm and blues singer with some very rough and crazy songs. He always had the weirdest and dirtiest lyrics. If you don´t know his music, check out Jailbait, Is It True or Cadillac Jack. I thought he really combines the punk attitude with rhythm and blues, with funky pimp style or whatever. I just think he is spectacular. After some phone calls I had his number and called him. I was amazed to hear his deep voice on the phone. And just a few months later I drove in my old Ford P7 to Frankfurt to pick him up. It was as hot as hell and my car had a little overheating problem. So on top of the heat outside I had to keep my heating on. Sweating and struggling for air I made it to Frankfurt and I got to the gate. His plane had landed but he didn´t show up. I was already nervous. After some time I started staring at every barely dark skinned person because I was afraid I would eventually not recognize him. But then the doors opened and I understood that not recognizing André Williams is not an issue. There he was, in a pinstripe suit, with an elegant tie and a big gray hat. He was super sharp and I was speechless. We said hello and he asked me if we could get a bottle of Bacardi rum. We could not find one at the stores nearby. So instead of getting that, we got to the car and started the 200km trip towards Cologne, still with the heating going at full power. At the first gas station we stopped to get Bacardi but they didn´t have it. I suggested that he could eventually drink something else instead. It was really hot. But he refused to have anything but Bacardi. Next gas station, same story, no Bacardi, nothing to drink for Mr. Williams. I drank at least one big bottle of water and two cans of coke on that trip and still thought I would die from the heat. When we finally got to Cologne we headed to a kiosk, that´s what liquor stores in our area are called. From the top of the shelf we bought two very dusty bottles of warm Bacardi. I paid. Andre opened the bottle and started drinking right away and never stopped until he left days later. Walking to the hotel I realized his special way of walking. Even with an open bottle of booze in hands he was a very elegant sight. He walked very relaxed and slow like nobody and nothing in the world could ever rush him. It was one more day until the show and for the night we had set up a rehearsal. We knew his garage influenced recent recordings and I was not yet sure how all that would work out with our 50´s orientated sound. Plus the big show, plus all that Bacardi… I was nervous. When I picked him up in the evening for the rehearsal he was out of Bacardi again. I was impressed. So we (I) bought another two bottles. We got to the rehearsal room of Little Roger and the House Rocker´s that we could use for that night. But there was nobody there. My whole band had difficulties in finding it and we had to wait for more than an hour until everybody was there. I was going crazy. André was totally calm. And he was joking: “Hey guys I think you have got a very nervous bandleader over here.” And he was right. Everybody was laughing. Everybody except me of course. By that time he was pretty loaded. We were ambitious about playing the old hits like Is It True or Bacon Fat. But he had other ideas. He tried to instruct us and sang that Hallelujah intro that he uses when playing with the Gold Stars for example. Needless to say that we had no idea how to play that and at that moment it was just a bizarre situation for all of us. It was a mess. There we were, nine concerned musicians and a drunk very hoarse motherfucker from Chicago hollering Hallelujah. Haha. Not an ideal start. I then suggested an other intro that would lead into Jailbait. He was very skeptical. But after the show two days later, when everything was over, he told me that at that moment when we played that intro he thought that someone (me) might have had an idea how to do it. I took this as a big compliment. It can still be seen on youtube today. The rehearsal was a mixture of scary, comical and super cool. He really slowed us down in a positive way. When we play, we are always in a rush and it took quite a while until he was OK with our rhythm of Bacon Fat for example. With his hoarse drunk voice he kept shouting at us: “You are only that deep in the pussy!” He showed us between his thumb and his finger. And I must say it was not very deep. Then he shouted:” But you´ve got to stick it all the way in!!!!” And with one hand he made a fist and with the other hand he pointed to his elbow. We were impressed. But no doubt after 30 tries and lots of his cussing, swearing and yelling we definitely sounded 100% better. Tommy still says this rehearsal was an enlightening experience. When I suggested to play Is It True, a very fast, very rough rock´n´roll number, he said: “ Yeah, that gives me some aggression relief!” All of that might give the impression that he was just a mean, drunk hoodlum. But all in all he wasn´t. He was very nice and very smart and we talked about a lot of things. I told him that one guy from the band quit music because his wife told him to. He shook his head and said: “What a dumb move! I ain´t giving up my music for nobody.”
The next night was the night of the show. He was very drunk but still able to do the show. And given the short rehearsal, the amount of Bacardi and the stress it was really good. Now when we do the shows at the Gloria there re people who complain about everything: We play too long, too short, too fast, too slow. I had people telling me that the floor of the Gloria was too dirty. I am sure a lot of people had no idea, what this crazy man was doing there on stage with us. But I am very proud he was there. And I believe even people who didn´t understand the show, might one day find out about this guy and will be happy that they saw him there with us. He is someone who will not just repeat something that he did when he was a young boy. He is somebody who wants to bring action to the kids. And I believe that is what Rock´n´Roll is all about. With the last chord of the show we shook hands and hugged each other. And I believe that we were both very happy that it had worked out good. We had a fantastic after show party and I took a beautiful picture of André hugging my mother. I never thought I would ever see that. I don´t remember why but his flight home went not before two days later. The next day we went to have drinks (guess which one) with Angelo and Lucky from Italy. The whole situation was completely different. We were all relaxed and simply having a fantastic time. He told us all kind of stories. Like when he as a kid saw Cab Calloway in the movie, Stormy Weather. He said:” The curtain opened and there he was in his white zoot suit.” and he snapped his fingers and said: ”That´s how I wanted to dress for the rest of my life!” Later he gave me his hat and said, “Keep it!” I walked home half drunk with a Andre Williams´ red hat on and was very happy. The next day I took him to the airport. When he checked in, the woman at the custom asked him, what the purpose of his stay was. He bent over to her and said with a deep hoarse voice: “We kicked ass.” Then he smiled at me and at her again and then the three of us had to laugh out loud. Half a year later I went by train from New Orleans to Chicago. Anybody who loves America and American traditional music should do something like that. The horns of the train sound fantastic and they blow all night long because the train keeps passing little streets. Steve of the Foxtail Studio in Dixon told me that the guys on the train tune their horns in different chords. I had never thought about that. But it made sense. Because it is great chords. Anyway I was hoping to meet André in Chicago again. I called him. He was not sure who I was, but we agreed to have dinner that evening. He named a time and a corner somewhere deep on the south side of Chicago. Now in Europe we have all kind of racist problems too. But America is just different. People told me I could simply not go there. I always ignored these warnings and never had any problems so far. As I took the train, station by station the color of the people around me changed until I was the only white person in there. It is a very unusual situation. It should be normal, but when I was standing at that corner, the only white person, the only one who had obviously nowhere to go. I started wondering if he would show up. Well he did. He remembered me. We had dinner. He was sober. And he said he had quit drinking. He looked so different that I had to tell him. I said: “Your eyes they…” and he laughed and finished my sentence: “…they look like eyes again, right?” It was great to see him in that condition after all that Bacardi in Cologne. Ah, I almost forgot to say: Talking about recordings André said: “ It´s very hard if you get chicken shit and you are supposed to make chicken salad out of it.” I loved that sentence so I had to make a song of it: Chicken Shit.