Larry Williams (1935-80) is best remembered as a 1950s rock and roll pioneer. While he began his career as a pianist for such artists as Lloyd Price, Roy Brown, and Percy Mayfield, it was his two-year stretch with Specialty Records, 1957-58, that cemented his place in rock and roll history. Hits such as “Short Fat Fanny,” “Bony Moronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and “Slow Down” not only sold millions of records for himself but went on to be recorded by dozens of artists.The 1960s found him moving in a different direction. He produced two albums for Little Richard and recorded with Johnny “Guitar” Watson. He also acted in several films. During the 1970s he wrestled with drug addiction and an unhealthy lifestyle.
The year 1978 found him in the studio one last time. The result was That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk. Two years later he was dead from a bullet to the head. Whether suicide or murder (arguments have been made on either side), it brought to an end the career of Larry Williams. His last release has now been re-issued by Real Gone Music.
The album is one of the great lost releases of the late 1970s. It combines the joy and energy of Sly Stone and the style and rhythms of George Clinton. It demonstrated that Williams had moved far beyond his 1950s rock and roll roots and was exploring territory that was very modern and cutting edge at the time.
He created a full and layered sound. He provided the lead vocals and keyboards and was supported by second keyboardist Rudy Copeland, guitarist Tony Drake, bassist Gary Brown, drummer Joe Brown, and percussionist Antoine Dearborn. He also was supported by a full brass section and a backing vocal group.
“Bony Moronie (Disco Queen)” is re-imagined with a combination of synthesizers and electric piano in addition to some horn accents to create rhythms that are far different from the original. “ATS Express” and “One Thing or the Other” are built upon a deep bass beat, with the brass filling in the gaps. The album’s best track is “The Resurrection of Funk (Funk Comes Alive).” It has a depth to the rhythms as they come at you from several different directions. Very close in quality, and somewhat out of place, is the album’s only ballad, “How Can I Believe (What You Say).” It is a look back to the 1950s when sentimental slow songs were in style, yet it has a timelessness that holds up well.
Williams’ tragic death in 1980 at the age of 44 deprived the music world of an artist who was moving in a creative and exciting direction. That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk is a good look into the emerging funk scene of the late 1970s and is well worth a listen.