SoundCheck has always been totally gone for Andre Williams. The way-out R&B overlord has been active since the '50s, when he waxed such soulful slabs of dementia as "Jail Bait," "Bacon Fat" and "The Greasy Chicken."
He recorded for the legendary Fortune and Motown labels in Detroit, wrote hits for Stevie Wonder, the Five Du-Tones and Alvin Cash, worked with the P-Funk Nation and produced Ike Turner. Like Turner, he was sidelined for a time by drug problems, but he became a cult figure in the '90s with a series of sleazy, get-down albums for indie rock labels. ("Silky": filthy and highly recommended.)
It seems like Andre is everywhere at the moment. In May, the 73-year-old singer released "That's All I Need," a new album for Chicago's Bloodshot Records; cut with members of such Motor City indie rock acts as the Dirtbombs, the Witches, the Sights and Electric Six, it's one of his strongest and most personal works ever. (It's also the first album he cut in sobriety.)
After getting out of a six-week stint in rehab, Williams started writing at the suggestion of Norton Records' Miriam Linna. Late last year, Norton's publishing line Kicks Books issued his short story collection "Sweets," a raw, hard-edged tome about streetwalkers, drug runners and other gutter-jumpers in the manner of paperback blaxploitationists Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines. The great music scribe Nick Tosches contributes an introduction.
If you want to check out this fearsome cat up close and personal, Hulu is currently unspooling Tricia Todd and Eric Matthies' candid 2007 feature Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams. Andre, who emerges as a musical jack-of-all-trades and hustler par excellence, is captured at his most maniacal and profane. He's seen recording with Jon Spencer and touring Eastern Europe, but the pic sweeps nothing under the rug: His rough lifestyle, hospitalization, arrest for drug possession and eviction from a senior living facility are unblushingly documented.
A funky renaissance man? No doubt. Norton's also given Andre his own fragrance line, Bait and Switch Perfume. A bottle costs 10 bucks and is accessorized with a plastic switchblade. Eat your heart out, Sean John.