Larry Williams (May 10, 1935 January 7, 1980) was an American rhythm and blues and rock and roll singer, songwriter and pianist from New Orleans, Louisiana. Williams is best known for writing and recording some rock and roll classics from 1957 to 1959 for Specialty Records, including "Bony Moronie", "Short Fat Fannie", "Bad Boy", "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" and "She Said Yeah," which were later covered by British Invasion groups and other artists. John Lennon, in particular, was a fan of Williams, recording several of his songs over the course of his career. "Bony Maronie" is listed as one of the Top 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll.
Williams lived a life mixed with tremendous success and violence-fueled drug addiction. He was a long-time friend of Little Richard.
As a child in New Orleans, Williams learned how to play piano. When he was a teenager, he and his family moved to Oakland, California, where he joined a local R&B group called the Lemon Drops. In 1954, when he was 19 years old, Williams went back to New Orleans for a visit. He began work as Lloyd Price's valet and developed a friendship with Little Richard Penniman, who was recording at the time in New Orleans. Price and Penniman were both recording for Specialty Records at the time. Williams was introduced to Specialty's house producer, Robert Blackwell, and was signed to record.
In 1957, Little Richard was Specialty's biggest star, but bolted from Rock and Roll to pursue the ministry. Williams was quickly groomed by Blackwell to try to replicate his success. Using the same raw, shouting vocals and piano-driven intensity, Williams scored with a number of hit singles.
Williams' three biggest successes were "Short Fat Fannie", which was his first hit, reaching #5 in Billboard's pop chart, "High School Dance", which also made #5, and "Bony Moronie", which peaked at #14. Both "Short Fat Fanny" and "Bony Moronie" sold over one million copies, gaining gold discs.
Several of his songs achieved later success as revivals by The Beatles ("Bad Boy", "Slow Down", and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"); The Rolling Stones ("She Said Yeah"); and John Lennon's versions of "Bony Moronie" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy".
Williams had been involved with underworld activity since his early teens, and had reputedly been a pimp before he ever recorded music. After 1957 Williams did not have much success selling records. He recorded a number of songs in 1958 and 1959, including "Heebie Jeebies", with band members such as Plas Johnson on tenor sax and Alvin "Red" Tyler on baritone, Barney Kessel on guitar, Gerald Wilson on trumpet, Ernie Freeman or Williams himself on piano, and Earl Palmer on drums. He was convicted of dealing narcotics in 1960 and served a jail term, setting back his career considerably.
Williams made a comeback in the mid-1960s with a funky soul band that included Johnny "Guitar" Watson, which paired him musically with Little Richard who had been lured back into secular music. He produced two Little Richard albums for Okeh Records in 1966 and 1967, which returned Little Richard to the Billboard album chart for the first time in ten years and spawned the hit single Poor Dog. He also acted as the music director for the Little Richard's live performances at the Okeh Club. Bookings for Little Richard during this period skyrocketed. Williams also recorded and released material of his own and with Watson, with some moderate chart success. This period may have garnered few hits but produced some of his best and most original work.
Williams also began acting in the 1960s, appearing on film in Just for the Hell of It (1968), The Klansman (1974), and Drum (1976).
In the 1970s, there was also a brief dalliance with disco, but Williams' wild lifestyle continued. By the middle of the decade, the drug abuse and violence was taking its toll. In 1977, Williams pulled a gun on and threatened to kill his long-time friend, Little Richard, over a drug debt. They were both living in Los Angeles and addicted to cocaine. Little Richard bought drugs from him, arranged to pay him later, but did not show up because he was high. Williams was furious. He hunted him down but ended up showing compassion on his long-time friend after Little Richard repaid the debt. This, along with other factors, led to Little Richard's return to born again Christianity and the ministry, but Williams would not escape LA's seedy underworld.
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