Lee Shot Williams
a piece of music history
By Anders Lillsunde
Lee Shot Williams was born the 21st of May 1938 in Lexington, Mississippi. He moved to Chicagoat the end of the 50’s. Like many of the artists moving to Chicago at that time, his background too was in gospel music and early R&B. The old country blues singers had lost their position as a background for a music career.
It was these new artists who brought with them the impulses, which became the foundation for soul music and the definitive end of the electrified delta blues. Lee Shot Williams is a very interesting artist, because he was just in the middle when the winds of change raged Chicago. He started his career in the band of Little Smokey Smothers.
From there he joined Magic Sam, with whom he shared the band because both artists had records out. He recorded during this time four singles for Federal, among others Welcome To The Club, which Little Milton later covered. After Magic Sam he sang with Earl Hooker for some years before he got his first big hit on the Shama label. In 1977 TK released a LP with moderate success. After that the recording career slowed down until he released a record, Cold Shot, on the Dutch label Black Magic in 1995. The record got several awards but didn’t sell. In 1996 he joined Ecko Records, where he has released many fine albums. His latest record was recorded for Wilson Records, owned by the soul blues singer Charles Wilson.
In the middle of the 80’s Lee moved away from Chicago to Memphis. At that time, but already in the 70’s many artists still popular among the black audience had left Chicago and moved south. The music scene in Chicago had fallen apart.
Like many of the old soul blues singers Lee Shot Williams has succeeded in up dating his sound. Today he is on par with what’s played on black radio stations and he has himself had several radio hits during the last years. He is performing almost entirely before a black audience, with the exception of a few festivals. The interview was made during our breakfast at the hotel in Riga, Latvia.
Your first influences
The first music I was fond of was Louis Jordan. That was my favourite artist. Later on I got into the groups, like Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, The Five Royales, The Dominoes. Then there was Bobby Bland and Junior Parker.
You were not interested in Delta Blues?
I used to hear Muddy Waters, but because I was a group singer, I used to sing gospel, I liked the groups. I started singing gospel, but in no major groups, just small groups back home.
When did you decide you should become a singer?
My auntie she played guitar, she was Helen Thomas. My first cousin played guitar when I was a kid. My grandmother didn’t let me sing blues around the house when I was young. But I was going ‘round the house to listen to Louis Jordan. He was very popular on the radio when I was a kid; Who Threw the Whiskey In The Well and Nobody Here But Us Chicken…
It started out in -58 or -59. I used to sing around with Little Smokey Smothers. Little Smokie had a band. He let me sing in his band. But I was working on my day job and he used to let me sometimes sing on the weekend. I make more money sing on the weekend with him than working five days on a job. I quit the job. I sang Bobby Bland and Junior Parker. I used to sing some Hank Ballard, Thrill On The Hill. Hank Ballard had a big hit record Thrill On The Hill. I used to sing that all the time (Ed. note; I think the name of the song is Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Lets’ Go). In fact I sang background on two of his records, because we were on the same company.
In Smokey’s band we did all songs, not only blues. We played jazz, we had that qualification of musicians. We had three horns; tenor, trumpet, and trombone. Sometimes we had four. Willie Henderson played baritone. He played with me last year at the blues festival in Chicago. We had a good band. We would do Ray Charles, we did all of them. That’s why we were so popular among the young guys in Chicago.
Delta Blues was very strong at that time in Chicago. We did a few delta blues. We did Ray Charles, like What Did I Say, Little Milton, we did one of Muddy Waters, we did one Howling Wolf. We did a variety of songs. We didn’t do just 12 bar blues. We had packed houses everywhere we go, because we were so diverse with our music. It would be the hits of the day.
You sang also with Magic Sam. Did you sing the same king of songs then too?
I played with Magic Sam about two years. Magic Sam was a wonderful guy. I did the same kind of songs, but at that time I had four records out of my own; You’re Welcome To The Club, Hello Baby etc. I sang my songs along with some more songs. I did like R&B. I never did a lot of delta blues.
Why I am asking is because the white blues audience has stopped at the 50’s blues. After 1960 there is in a way nothing
It didn’t stop, it didn’t stop. What happened was… Muddy and Wolf went to another thing. They went to another level. They were not just like riding the same little circles. Back in the 50’s Muddy and them were huge among black people. Then they branched out, as the white people got in them. White people knew about them all the time, but they didn’t start with the white people then.
We played 12 bar blues, Little Milton played 12 bar blues. Why his blues was different like ours was he had horns. Muddy and them had harmonicas and guitars. We had horns and that gave our music another dimension. But it was 12 bar blues but a different sound.
With Earl Hooker I did also R&B and blues. Earl Hooker did the hottest songs. Earl Hooker used to play Ike & Tina Turner songs on his guitar. He sang it on his guitar, “Darling It’s Gonna Work Out Fine”. He played that on his guitar like Tina sang it. We did the popular songs of the day.
How did you get into recording?
I wanted to record, because everybody else had records out. I was talking to people who owned foxy records. They told me that I had to have my own songs. They wouldn’t record you with other people’s songs. I wrote my song Hello Baby.
And then you recorded for Federal that was a big label at that time
Sonny Thompson was their A&R man. I knew him. My first record Hello Baby was a picked record in Chicago. I went talking to him and he took me to Cincinnati.
I think your Federal recordings sound modern even today.
You know why? We had horns. If we have had harmonicas and played 12 bar blues they had sounded like the 50’s. They were recorded in 1963.
Hold me, hold me, hold me sounds still very up date.
It’s a rock’n roll song. It was like Chuck Jackson. Who they got a writer on that – Sonny Thompson?! They took that record, because I wrote that song. Jessie Anderson wrote Welcome to The Club, not Sonny Thompson. They took everything from you. They promised to copyright them in your name, but they copyrighted them in their name
Maybe you should do Hold Me, Hold Me, Hold Me tonight?
They can’t play it. We did all six sides at the same time. Back in that day everybody played at the same time. If somebody messed up, we had do go back and do it all over. The singer being in a boot and the band being out there playing. Sonny Thompson arranged the songs.
Then you recorded your big hit I Like Your Style
It was recorded for Syl Johnson. I still get a check from BMI on that. Syl copy righted that for me. He didn’t take that away from me. Carl Smith helped me produce it. I had to give him a piece as a writer. He didn’t write it. I wrote also I Hurt Myself on the flipside. They didn’t get me on that? Carl Smith?! They took the whole song. We recorded the songs in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. They were put out in 1969. We recorded in the Hi studio with Willie Mitchell. O.V. Wright was big down there. They tried to give him my song. Syl said; You can’t give away his song, he wrote it”. It Hurt My Self, they took that. It was called the Royal Studio then. They change the name when they put the Hi label out. The Hodges brothers played on it. Bowlegged Miller produced Denise Lasalle and Trapped By A Thing Called Love.
What happened then? I lost track of you.
I did a LP for TK out of Miami. It’s called Country Disco. Gene Barge and Ralph Bass produced that. It was a soul record, but we had one song with a banjo and a steel guitar. I was still making records but I don’t know what happened. I did a record for Mel Collins in Chicago. Garland Green was with him.
The LP for TK was recorded in Chicago. We had all my favourite musicians playing on that, Gene Barge played tenor and Paul Serrano trumpet. Phil Upchurch played bass on my very first record.
After that you had the record on Black Magic and then you went to Ecko.
I did some records in between that never got big. Ecko Record is a small company but it’s growing. I don’t know how you got Charles Wilson. He just started his label out and you don’t have the Ecko Stuff. Ecko got plenty of records on me (Ed. Note: I bought the Wilson record in Chicago in June 2003. It was the only record by Lee in that store).
We talked yesterday about the synthezisers and that there is more or less a requirement from the radio stations that the records have to be synth records to get played…
I don’t know you can say it’s a requirement. But I know the records they won’t play. The record you got last night (Black Magic), they didn’t play that. It’s a very good record, it got good musicians on it and everything. But they wouldn’t play it. But all of my records with synthezisers they are playing. Malaco cut live bands, but they mix that stuff down, they fuse the sound. The guitar is in there, but way back. You hear the synthezers and the bass. College stations will play, but you don’t sell a lot of records on that market. The records have to be in the market. College stations play for a white audience. Ecko records are for a black market.
I have learnt that there is a sharp border between what A.C. Reed is doing i.e “white blues” and what the black audience likes. Blacks are defining soul as blues and the white definition of blues, they won’t listen to at all.
That’s right. I will tell you something else. If they had to pay in Chicago to get to the blues festival you wouldn’t see nothing but whites. You wouldn’t see no blacks. They don’t like the artists on the show. They have big artists there. They have artists they are paying 5.000 – 8.000 dollars. But if blacks had to pay for that, nobody would be there. You see blacks at the festival just because they are out walking in the park I’m saying it like it is.
Chick Willis years ago, he was one of their favourite artists, when he made the Stoop Down. Since then he went back to straight delta blues. They don’t like that. They like Stoop Down. I would love to do delta blues. But they won’t play it. Big Smokey played delta blues. He worked at the white clubs. He didn’t work at black clubs.
They took Freddie King up there the same time they took Big Smokey (ed. note; Big Smokey and Freddie King made their first recordings at King at the same time). Freddie King cut some delta blues, but it didn’t work. They gave him Hide Away and Freddie King got big. It took black people to dance and black people love to dance. From there Freddie became a big star off that one record. See, in The United States if we get one big record that go across the market we do not have to worry no more. You always have work. Percy Sledge, but he is working for whites, he had lot of records but only one big hit When A Man Loves A Woman 25 years ago. He is working off that one right now. Black stopped liking delta blues in -59 or -60. But that didn’t bother me and Little Smokey. We played a variety. We played jazz, we used to play Charlie Parker. If someone wanted to hear Muddy Waters, we played Muddy Waters.
I will show you some records we have featured in Jefferson; Chuck Roberson and Sheba Potts-Wright. Do you know them?
I know them. Sheba’s father sings. Sheba is probably 25. She is popular. She’s doing stuff like I Found Lipstick On His Pants, sexy songs. If she was doing straight songs nobody would buy them. I have heard of Peggy Scott? Peggy Scott is so big, because she recorded the song Bill. It’s a novelty song about two guys. It sold a million copies. Black people like that kind of stuff. They don’t like no serious stuff like My Baby Left Me …- So???
Kenne Wayne, young singer, I like him, he made a record and I laugh about it all the time. He got two ladies, one is his wife, one is his girl friend. The phone rings – Hello –Can I speak to Kenne – May I ask who is calling – I want to speak to Kenne – I’m his wife – Sooo?. It became a big record. So, you are his wife, so? I laugh every time I hear that record. That’s the kind of records we have to do in the soul area to get across. The DJ’s like it too. The most popular record I had was She’s Made A Freak Out Of Me. They played that record every station you go to. I went to Miami, Florida, I was on the show with all rappers. I was the only soulblues singer. You won’t believe this and it chocked me, when I came on the stage you would have thought Michael Jackson came on the stage. Little kids were rubbing me on my feets when I was singing, black kids! Mr Lee Shot, please Make A Freak Out Of Me. It was a big record. But personally I care nothing about that record, because it’s nothing but a novelty. But all of my good strong songs that I have been singing, they are not buying. They don’t like them.
Is it embarrassing that the audience don’t like the serious stuff, only novelty songs?
I call it bull shit. They love bull shit. I’m serious. Willie C Cobb told me when I first moved down south; Lee Shot down south if you want to make some money you cut bull shit and sex songs. He was singing serious songs but serious songs they won’t buy. I didn’t believe him. I was cutting them serious songs but didn’t get any airplay. I had good songs and good lyrics, they wouldn’t play it.
I like the white market because they will accept you for your singing and your ability to entertain. The blacks who liked Otis Redding are quitting going out or they are dead. The young have not been exposed to this music. The DJ’s don’t play this kind of music. If they would play it, they would like it. They play nothing but hip hop. I found out about the radio stations, the program director, he’s the man. But he’s not the man. He is just there with a name. Somebody else is telling him what to do. He has to play what the boss says. And the boss got all these radio stations across the country. They are playing the same records on all of the stations. You got small stations playing our records. You got one in Jackson and you got a station in Montgomery, Alabama. In Memphis, Tennessee, the onliest play we get is on Saturdays. Bobby Bland and B.B King get played only on Saturdays. All the rest of the week they play Luther Vandross, Patti Labelle, those kinds of artists.
You have to be on the radio if you want people to buy the records.
When I was in Chicago in May, I didn’t find one club featuring soul blues. Don’t they like soul blues in Chicago?
They like soul blues in Chicago. The artists went into the delta blues, because they are working the circuit over here (Europe). They would get a gig every now and then doing soul blues in Chicago. Otis Clay still do soul blues. But he is working across the country. But all those guys in Chicago quitting soul blues and doing delta blues, because they have work every week. Checkerboard was doing delta blues and soul blues, but it’s closed. It was the only club doing that. You have to go to Memphis and that area to listen to soul blues. You can’t go to Beale Street, they are playing delta blues. You have to go down south and catch shows, like Benny Latimore show. I know Barbara Carr very well. She’s living in St. Louis, Missouri.
Do all of the soul blues artist have band of their own or are you sharing bands?
We carry own bands. I know Ricky Allen very well. I always see him when in Chicago. He was a big star back in the 60’s in Chicago and all around in the south. His hits were like Cut You A Loose and You’d Better Be Sure. In his days he was in Chicago like Otis Redding. Magic Sam was big. Otis Rush was big around Chicago. Otis Rush had lots of records of his own, but I guess you could call them delta blues. Magic Sam was playing delta blues but he had different twist to it. They don’t know anything about Ricky Allen in the white market in Chicago. He never did get over there. That’s why he is unknown among whites
When I was in Chicago in May I heard Cut You A-Loose twice and Down Home Blues three times. You did Down Home Blues yesterday.
That was the first time I did that song since it came out. I got so many songs on my own. I do mostly my songs. But over here I have to do songs the band can play. If you get me over to Sweden, I’ll do my own songs. When I did Mojo Working yesterday, it was the first time in 20 years. But I know it. When I have learnt something, I never forget. The band here plays behind every artist. They have learnt to play the songs their way. But I’m different and I do different songs than the average blues singer. My show is a little different. You know what I would do if I came over to Sweden. I would do my songs live and send them to you. They would learn that better than from the records.
How is it to perform to an European audience? Over here the audience is quiet until the song is finished, then they tap politely. A black audience gives response all the time.
It doesn’t bother me. A black audience respond if there’s something they like. If they don’t like it they don’t respond. They go to the wash room by the rows. If the club yesterday would have been an American club and the audience didn’t like what they heard, by the second song half of them would have been in the wash room. I try to do my job good. If I do my job as good as I can do it, I can’t do no more. I have no problems, when I open up in the United States, they gonna look at me at the stage because we’ll be moving, the band will be moving, we’ll be rolling. I open up with a Teddy Pendergrass song, that I recorded, it’s called Get Up Get Funky . It’s a house rocker. I don’t that that kind of problem. But as I said you know when they don’t like it; “Get off that stage…”
The difference between R Kelly and the soul blues is not very big. He sounds very traditional.
There is no difference. The difference is that he gets played on radio an we no. It’s the same with Ronald Isley. He is really big today. They don’t mind he is over 60 years old.
Is rap loosing in popularity?
No it will never loose. Soul and soul blues have always also been there. My music is soul blues. It got blues lyrics but it’s soul. The soul blues will stay as the same. Many artists are older, but new young artists are appearing