LENNY WILLIAMS: Classic Soul 1977 Interview

Lenny Williams in 1977
Photo Credit
Keith Bernstein/Redferns

Lenny Williams: A Perfect Choice

By David Nathan

September 1977

For those who just may not know, Lenny Williams was the 'voice' behind Tower of Power on hits like "So Hard To Go", "What is Hip?", and "Don't Change Horses In The Middle Of The Stream" (a song he co-wrote with a certain Johnny 'Guitar' Watson). After leaving the aggregation about three years back, Lenny recorded one album for Motown in 1975, entitled "Rise Sleeping Beauty" which certainly demonstrated further his writing/producing/singing skills. Unfortunately, the album didn't live up to its sales expectations and when Lenny's contract with the company was up, he moved on to a new situation with A.B.C. Records

He explains: "The Motown album wasn't much of a commercial success and I've tried to figure out why and couldn't come up with any real answer. It wouldn't be right to blame either the company entirely or to blame me for the actual material. Well, anyway, after that didn't happen, I took some time out to go back to school to study piano and guitar, really preparing myself for the future, further expanding my knowledge as far as music goes. I guess I stayed for a few terms, at school before I dropped out."

Almost immediately after he'd finished the Motown album, Lenny did begin work on a project in another area: he started writing a children's book tabbed "Toby Lee & June-Bug".  He explains, "It's about two young boys and although I originally wrote it with children in mind, I saw it would also be good for adults. Anyway, it hasn't been published yet but I've had a couple of companies interested in turning the project into a movie — which I'm very happy about naturally. Yes, I'd like to get more into writing but obviously I'm giving prominence to my singing career right now. It's just that when things weren't happening with the "Sleeping Beauty" album, I wasn't going to sit home doing nothing."

Lenny found himself speaking with Otis Smith at A.B.C. Records about the possibility of recording again towards the end of 1976.  "I'd already spoken with Otis after leaving Tower of Power, so he was familiar with what I wanted to do. He suggested that Frank Wilson — who as you know spent some time at Motown — would really be the right guy to produce me. So I met with Frank and we found that we had a lot of common ground in a lot of areas, including our spiritual beliefs.  We had a kind of understanding which made working together much easier. It was like Frank knew what I needed and we could relate very well to each other".

The result of the meetings was that Mr. Wilson and Mr. Williams began working together in January of 1977 on the album and Lenny is in no two minds about it.  “I don't think there's any comparison between this and the previous album I did on my own. This is a superior product.  Yes, it is hard to produce yourself as I did on the Motown album because you do sometimes need what I can only call a "devil's advocate", someone who'll be critical and help you sort out what you need to do. Well, Frank really helped in this capacity on the album and there was a lot of input from both sides."

The album has already spawned one hit single in "Shoo Do Fuh Fuh Ooh!" and Lenny explains how the title came about:  "I'd gotten the hook, I'd really gotten the song together but I just didn't have a title. So I told Frank we'd just have to go with the hook because it seemed like the only legitimate name we could come up with!" The record has done very well although the title cut, "Choosing You" is currently one of the album's prime cuts, receiving strong disco play everywhere.  "I never wrote the song as a disco item although I knew it was danceable and I'm glad that people are playing it. In fact, the album seems to be really picking up play from a lot of different places and that makes me glad. You see, I want to be able to reach out and touch as many different people as I can with my music. That's why we've been touring with Blood, Sweat & Tears on the one hand and The Dramatics on the other because that way, we're reaching out at two different markets.

"Whilst I was with Tower Of Power, we did get a substantial R&B audience, although of course some rock fans were into what we were doing. But this has been my first real exposure as a solo artist and I want to cut across all the boundaries."  Lenny says that people do still associate him with his days with Tower of Power but he doesn't look on it in a negative way.  "Sure, there are going to be the 400,000-odd people who bought our records when I was with the group and I don't have any regrets about having been with them or that period in my life, none whatsoever. But I think too that there are all those x number who don't know me from there, who didn't hear those records, who are going to hear the records I'm doing now. So I guess there's going to be a mixture of both new fans and people from the Tower days who are going to get into what I'm doing. I certainly hope so!"

On tour now with six pieces (two horns and a rhythm section), Lenny is meeting with strong response everywhere. "I guess my main aim is to become a viable artist as both a singer and writer. I have three songs on this particular album, with Frank and his co-writers offering the other selections and I do want to expand my writing abilities further."

"Choosing You" looks like being the first in a line of hit albums that the talented, genial young man is destined to serve to an eagerly-waiting public. Already, he's been getting strong feedback from Europe as well as within the States so a tour is already likely to be on the cards.

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