(1935 – 1980)
Larry Williams was an R&B singer and an outsized character whose raucous late 50s recordings would become favorites of many of the young rockers of the 1960s British Invasion.
Growing up in New Orleans, Williams learned to play piano as a boy. As a teen he joined a local R&B band in Oakland, Calif., when his parents relocated there. In 1954 he returned to New Orleans and began to work as a chauffer/valet for singer Lloyd Price, eventually becoming pianist for Price as well as R&B singers Roy Brown and Percy Mayfield, who were all recording for Specialty Records. After establishing himself as a sideman, in 1957 Williams signed his own deal with Specialty, whose owners were hoping to help fill the gap that had just been left when their biggest star, Little Richard, left Rock and Roll for a (temporary) life in the ministry.
Williams’ early releases on Specialty did decently on the Pop and R&B charts, but their impact wasn’t fully felt until a few years later, when many of these high energy hybrids of R&B and Rock were discovered by the R&B and Blues obsessed groups coming out of London and Liverpool in the early and mid 60s. Williams’ originals “Short Fat Fannie,” “Bony Moronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Bad Boy” and “Slow Down” were all recorded by the Beatles or regularly featured in their live shows, and “She Said Yeah” was recorded by the Rolling Stones and the Animals. (The songs subsequently became staples for American garage bands who were influenced by the British covers, not the Williams originals.)
Williams was dropped by Specialty after a stretch in prison for drug dealing and spent the next few years bouncing from label to label. He met little success until he teamed with Blues/R&B veteran Johnny "Guitar" Watson for a series of moderately successful Soul releases, culminating in 1967’s Top 40 hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” a cover of Cannonball Adderly's Jazz instrumental, for which they added lyrics. Despite his struggles to find success in his home country, Williams remained popular in the U.K., and he toured there frequently.
Williams spent most of the 1970s pursuing business outside the music world (and outside the law); he was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in his Los Angeles home in 1980.