It's been a long hard road for Andre Williams, losing his mother at six then bouncing from aunts to his father and back, and as he says, "Raising myself." This winding bumpy road led Dre from Hank Williams playing on a truck radio in the sharecropping fields of Alabama through underage enlistment in the armed services trying to escape his home life to a year in prison when he was found out, and finally into the arms of the music business. Sometimes those arms were loving; sometimes not, but it has been a road that Andre still chooses to travel.

Andre has graces he learned as a boy in Chicago that still serve him well. He was never bitter about the pre-Civil Rights treatment he received, as he says, "That's just the way it was." Traveling in his early music days he composed the song "Bacon Fat" driving down the highway eating a bacon and egg sandwich! It was all a bootleg business then with Devora Brown, a Memphis Jewish woman who was recording in the back of her store on old RCA microphones. Everyone was paid in cash, $10, and everyone was happy. No royalties existed, but Andre was making records. He speaks openly about his addiction problems in interviews and said his never having much money probably saved his life, as he couldn't afford the drug overindulgence he was attracted to.

When Mick Patrick of Spectropop contacted me about interviewing Mr. Williams, as Dre and I had both been Motown writers, albeit in different decades, I was eager to meet and speak with him. He was coming to London to perform at The Luminaire, a club in Kilburn, not far from my new home In St. John's Wood. I arranged for the interview via Andre's MySpace page. Ah, the Internet, the connecter of all living things! I simply asked him if we could meet for a piece in Spectropop, and his reply was, "Sure, c'mon down baby, we'll talk."

I arrived at 4:00, the appointed hour, and waited until 6:00, as Andre was sleeping. The road is hard on young men, so I don't even want to think about it at 72. Antoine, the lovely young French road manager, graciously checked on me every half hour to make sure I was fine with the delay. In the meantime, as I waited at The Kilburn Pub, others showed up to speak with Dre. The BBC and a music publication sat at another table. When Antoine came to escort me across the street to the hotel bar for the interview, I remarked that I was surprised I had been chosen before the bigger writers waiting in the pub. "You came first; you go first." He smiled, and I thought what a very savvy, young man.

I stood in the elegant wood paneled space with high ornately coppered ceilings and watched for Andre's entrance. I had selected a quiet place in the corner and asked the bartender if she could lower the music while he was being interviewed. In walked Antoine with Andre. He is a very dapper man, elegantly dressed and coifed, tall (if bent) and thin. He is wearing a military style navy jacket with red piping and brass buttons, and it sets him off splendidly.

I approached smiling and extended my hand, "Hello, Andre, I'm Patti Dahlstrom." He took my hand, slowly raised it, and gave it a gentile kiss. I was impressed by his gracious beginning, and surprised by his dignity. We moved to the table I had set up. I mentioned that I had been a Motown writer too, and he responded openly, and seemed immediately more comfortable in my presence and with the interview.

Andre and Patti


PATTI DAHLSTROM: When I knew we were going to meet, I asked Kingsley Abbott and Artie Wayne, two music business insiders, what they would most like to know about your history in the industry. Hands down they wanted to know about Motown. Is it true you gave Berry Gordy his start?

ANDRE WILLIAMS: Well, actually, yes, he was working in the steel mill and what happened was he had started writin' some songs for this one boy … this was the first songs that he wrote was for this one boy …

Andre sips from his Bacardi and ponders …

PD: Was this in the days of the early Motown Revues?

AW: Exactly, yes. Then he had this little young boy who was wrecking up everything, which was Stevie Wonder. I talked him into keeping him because he wanted to get rid of him because Stevie was just a total nuisance. And I kept telling him, "Berry, Berry, just keep him because he's very talented and he's gonna be something." So Berry finally took my advice and decided to keep him and you seen what happened.

PD: How long was this before Stevie's first hit, "Fingertips"?

AW: It was within the first 18 months that "Fingertips" hit.

PD: Were artist treated differently than musicians or was it a happy family, all struggling together?

AW: Everybody, I would say, were equal. I would say that the artists was treated the same as the musicians.

PD: On the road with the revues, you were in charge and in touch with Detroit?

AW: Once we was out of the road, I was basically in charge.

PD: Did you realize that something really special was happening then?

AW: Yes. I knew that Berry was going to be a giant. I was not interested in being a giant, 'cause I've never been interested in being the head honcho. But I knew then that Berry had what it took to be a monster. I knew he had the magic. I knew he was a perfectionist. It had to be right or it was not going to happen.

PD: You know what I loved about him? When I first signed and I was one of the few white people, there was racism toward the white writers. I went up and told Berry about it, and he would not stand for it.

AW: That's right.

PD: Berry said, "The only thing that matters is … "

Andre and Patti in sync: Talent!

PD: He was a fair good man.

AW: Absolutely, always, you got that part right.

PD: As Berry gained success, how accessible was he to you?

AW: Right there. Right there. Whenever, wherever, however, he was there. He was very unusual because it is very unusual to get to the boss as quickly and as easily as you could get to Berry. Didn't you find that?

I nodded.

PD: What about the days with Chess Records

AW: I don't know how I could really put this but I never had no trouble getting to the bosses. From Berry to Leonard to Phil to all of the bosses, I never had a problem getting directly to 'em.

PD: Leonard Chess?

AW: Yes, Leonard was the boss. Phil was Leonard's brother. You always went to Phil first before you got to Leonard. Once you got to Leonard you got your job done. Phil could manipulate Leonard and get it in action, and Phil was OK according to Leonard. It was up to Phil's recommendation, but Leonard had to ink it.

PD: Jo Ann Garrett, whom you produced for Chess, was she your wife?

AW: Jo Ann was my wife. She was a very very very talented lady. Way younger than me, of course, but for some reason I could never get her off the ground. Leonard done everything he possibly could cause he was the first one who did an album on her. He did everything he possibly could, it just didn't happen.

PD: Have you found that to be true in your career that people with some talent get very famous and some who are brilliant can't get off the ground?

AW: Yes.

PD: Why do you think that is?

AW: Actually, I think it's the producer's reputation. You've been in the record business so you know what I'm saying. If a few folks don't like the producer, the artist suffers.

PD: So you are saying it's political?

AW: Yes, that's the word.

PD: What inspired you to get into music when you were young?

AW: I found myself between a rock and a hard place. Number one, I didn't have the education that a black man needed to be successful. Number two, I didn't have no direction because I didn't have no one to lead or guide me; I had to make my own way. I didn't have no … (he searches for what was missing)

PD: So you weren't given moral direction?

AW: No, none. That's it. And then I wasn't the most well liked guy in the music business.

PD: Why do you think that was?

AW: Well, Hell, because I was not taking nobody's advice. I was cuttin' my own path.

PD: Did that ever serve you well?

AW: No, it was not a good thing because generally you had to be very political and I was not the kind of guy who would let the kind of guy, who I knew didn't know, tell me what to do.

PD: You have to be able to live with yourself, don't you?

AW: Well you have to be able to adjust to their bullshit.

PD: Who would you like to work with now? Artist or producers, anyone you like? Alicia Keys?

AW: That is a very good question. I think the boy that jumped out the window in New York, the one who committed suicide, Donny Hathaway. He started out as a musician for Chess and wound up being a multi multi talented guy.

PD: Can I see you after the show and we can talk some more?

AW: Yes, let's do that. I am really receptive to your questions.

I returned to The Kilburn and met up with Mick Patrick. Spectropoppers and some folks from Ace Records were going to be joining us for the show. The opening act was The Flash Express, a hard rock group based out of Hollywood. Earlier in the day I met these gentlemen, and they were incredibly kind and helpful to me, making sure I got where I needed to be and had what I needed to have. Brian is the lead singer and guitar player of the trio, and has worked with Andre for ten years. As Andre told me, "If there wouldn't be no Brian, there wouldn't be no Andre. Now that's the truth."

By the time Andre came on at 10:00 everyone in the sold out venue was ready for him. The crowd literally went wild. A young buxom blonde was pressed against the stage making eyes at this septuagenarian, along with the dancing girl stage right. It was R&B set to rock. I could hardly hear him and told the promoter who adjusted the mix to let Andre shine. He had missed the sound check, but after a few numbers all was kosher.

The best pieces to me were the ones when the band cooled down and let Andre lead. His interpretation of "Put It In" with Brian's complimentary guitar licks was priceless. The audience was rapt. None of his earlier struggling for memories was apparent; Dre was in his element. He was a star. By the time he got to "Bacon Fat", it was a done deal. He was adored, and the three encore numbers brought the house down.

I was amazed backstage at all these young beautiful girls throwing themselves at him. I asked him if he'd noticed the especially well-endowed blonde flirting with him throughout the show, and in his gracious way, he said, "I don't go there. I have never been with a woman that I did not really care about."

When Mick and I walked with Antoine and Andre back to his hotel bar, we had a few more moments to talk with him. It had been a long day, an intense performance, and it showed on him. His history of trails off the primary path, and indulgences there, has robbed him of valuable tales and possible current creations. Still Andre Williams is a gentle man and a gentleman. I am so glad our paths crossed and from Mick and me and all at Spectropop, we wish him only the best.