Despite a claim of having written over five thousand songs, Dicky Williams’ recorded works have been somewhat sporadic since
his debut in 1960 but, like London buses, if you wait long enough, two will arrive together. With a country-orientated album
waiting in the wings and a blues project with the Ken Massey Group nearing completion, Dicky Williams is set to be back in a big
Born in Snow Hill, North Carolina, on January 6, 1938, Dicky Williams told In The Basement of his early years as a singer and
piano player… I was singing professionally in the US Army but I actually started singing when I was about six or seven years old –
my mother taught me to sing country & western. When I got in the army, they needed some musicians to entertain. I couldn’t play
then and I really couldn’t sing that well but I raised my hand anyway. And they said, Mister Williams, can you play and I said, yes
sir. I lied! My father played a little piano but he was no expert and I couldn’t play a note. I had a friend of mine called Dalton, from
Chicago. He said, they hired you but you can’t play and I said, I know but you can, so you’re going to have to teach me. So I
learned to play Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino and then I graduated to Blue Monday, also by Fats Domino. As I went on tour around
Germany – we started off in Nuremberg – I learned how to play Got A Woman by Ray Charles. Those three songs I took all over
Europe! Fats Domino and Ray Charles were definitely my influences and Dalton was a good teacher. I tried to get away with a few
things but he wouldn¹t let me. Even so, when I started playing piano, I could only use two fingers – but I graduated to three!
Dicky laughed as he reminisced about his piano-playing acumen but it was sufficient to inspire him to begin songwriting. I was
learning to play the piano one weekend, that’s when I started and, over the years, I’ve written many, many songs. I’ve written over
His spell in the US Army over, Dicky Williams settled in Washington DC where he met producer, Bill Boskent, who was looking to
engage a piano player and was not bothered by Dicky¹s limited prowess. Bill Boskent was Lloyd Price’s manager, he advised. I
was about twenty years old I guess. They were getting ready to record Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price. He hadn’t hit for a year or so, so
they needed him a new record. Bill said, how would you like to meet Lloyd? I said, I’d like to meet Lloyd, so they said, come on and
see how we do this. So I said, okay, because it was an interesting experience for me and I went and looked at that and I made a
suggestion. I said, well, folks have been doing one-horn things, two-horn things all the time, I think you should put more horns in.
They said, how many, three or four? I said no, let’s do something different, I think you should put about ten! Everybody thought I
was crazy – I felt crazy myself at that stage. Everybody thought I was out of my head but Bill asked if we could do that. He said, wait,
hear what he’s saying. So they listened and they said, well, let’s see if we can get Ray Charles’ band. And they got Ray Charles’
band and they got the Raelets to do the background. That’s how Stagger Lee came out that way.
Dicky continued: It was working with Bill as a piano player, that’s what took me from two to three fingers. I said, I can’t play your
stuff. He said, just go and do the best you can. And as I played, I sang. He said, can you sing this song and I said, I can sing it
better than I can play it. And he gave me another song to sing and I sang it. He said, why didn’t you tell me you were a singer rather
than hanging there doing nothing. I want to produce a record [on you]. The result was a novelty track which Boskent had penned,
entitled Tee Na Na and which appeared on Johnny Vincent’s, Jackson, Mississippi-based Vin label in 1960. Of the flip side, What
Makes You Think, Dicky said: You know what, I don’t even remember that song. I definitely didn’t write it.
Mention has been made in the introductory paragraph of limited product release and, with Dicky’s career little documented, digging
for facts has not always been carried out on fertile ground. Further work, dating from 1974 and again under Johnny Vincent’s
umbrella – on the Ace label – appeared on the UK Westside 2-cd set, Curiosities, issued in 2000 (and reviewed in issue #19).
Three singles spanned the gap, as Dicky recalled when the titles were put to him. Firstly, Heartache Hill, a Pledge release… That
came kind of early, ‘61 I think. That song was sent to me from Nashville but I can’t remember the man’s name at this present time.
Another single, That’s Where True Love Began c/w Oh Dreamy Me, appeared on Metro, billed as Dicky (Piano) Williams & the
Wisermen. That was between 60 and 63, I think, probably nearer 63. The Wisermen were two gentlemen who used to sing with
the Clovers. They said, you need some background on that song and I said, okay come and go with me. And they got another guy,
a third guy, called Chester. Dicky was unable to date a further outing, Ride The Wind but it debuted the label, Backfire, his own
imprint, which he has subsequently revived on two further occasions. I re-recorded that song since, he stated. (It saw release in
Dicky also turned his hand to production in the sixties, most notably working for some five years in Washington DC studios with
Ruby Johnson, a fellow North Carolina native, on her work for V-Tone and Never Duncan’s Nebs label. Ruby was born in Virginia
Beach, he remembered. That¹s where I first met her and began training her. She was working there in a restaurant at the weekend
and she was doing peoples’ hair on the week days. She could sing well but she was afraid to record. She said, I can’t record that
well. I said, I’ll teach you. I worked with her on everything she did until we got to Memphis and Stax Records and I wrote most of
her material as well. Never Duncan, he’s deceased now. I also produced Winfield Parker. I produced a record on him called They
Call Me Mister Clean [for Ru-Jac].
1974, found Dicky back on wax in his own right with Two Women, a soul-dripping plodder with organ, guitar and brass support as
our man tells the tale of being torn between his wife and his woman, both oh-so-good that making a choice is an impossibility. Ace
wanted that record, said Dicky. I didn’t have the money to manufacture it myself and Ace said they would manufacture all I needed. I
said, well, this record will probably sell a million copies if you’re going to press them. So [Ace boss, Johnny Vincent] said, okay, let
me have it, so I let him have it – and the record was very successful. As well as the driving flip, You Got A Good Thing Goin’, Dicky
dropped three further sides off under the deal with Ace: Waiting In The Gas Line, Holiday Inn and I’ll Be Standing By but releases
were put on hold due to the age-old difference of opinion between artist and record company over financial matters. It’s not only
Johnny, Johnny was a nice guy, Dicky remembered. I really loved him, I met him personally, I shook his hand. Johnny’s not the
only one. I’ve never got paid from no record company. So, when possible, I’ve always put the records out myself. I’ve said to my
wife, maybe somewhere down the road somebody might be fair but I’ve never got paid. I just can’t blame Johnny.
The spirited I’ll Be Standing By did actually see the light of day, coupled with Black Woman, on the Shirbam label. I didn’t know that,
said Dicky, but if that came out it would have been around 1978. [The record label states 1975.] My problem is that I record the
songs but I don¹t have enough money to keep up with them. I can’t really blame anyone, because everybody’s trying to make
money the best and the quickest way they can. And I’m blessed that anything I put my voice on seems to sell.
Waiting In The Gas Line, complete with string sweetening and Holiday Inn, with strong echo-y femme support (sounding like it was
recorded in the inn’s bathroom!) explored themes that would recur in Dicky’s work over a decade later, …Gas Line in particular
painting a picture through double entendres. Put to him that maybe the lyrics were a little rude, Dicky replied: I think maybe that was
a little ahead of time, although not in the sense that, at that time, there really was a gas line in America. But nobody would accept
that record for what it was saying. When I write I try to keep up with the times. And I’ve written a song since then called Pain In The
Gas Lane that I haven¹t released yet but I think it’s going to be on one of my CDs. Nowadays lyrics are getting very explicit but I write
about what I hear people talking about and, of course, it’s what sells. Take my song, Come Back Pussy [a lyrically graphic slow
blues, issued on the 1989 CMC album, In Your Face and subsequently on 45], they put it out one day and it hit the next. They were
having a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, when I first heard that, I didn’t even know it was out. In fact I had said, don’t put that out, I
wrote it just for fun. They said, okay but when I went home, next thing I heard the record was out. They called me from Birmingham
and said, we want you to come down and perform your new hit. I said, what hit? They said, Come Back Pussy. I said, how much
are you going to pay me? They said, if you come down here and sing just that one song, we’ll give you fifteen hundred dollars. I
said, I’m on my way!
Dicky reactivated the Backfire label in 1978 and 1986 for the albums, Triple Dyn-O-Mite and Red Negligee, White Whiskey & Blue
Lights respectively. They were recorded in Washington DC, in a studio called Rodell in Georgetown, he said. There was also a
single issued on Sirco in 1984 coupling Touching You and Trying To Make It – That was also recorded in Washington DC. Dicky
continued: As a matter of fact, I have a new recording right now that I haven¹t released yet, of Red Negligee, White Whiskey and
Blue Lights and that’s going to be my country & western album. When I had that before, at that time that was the only country &
western song on that album but, what I’ve done since then – my wife has badgered me so much! – I’ve gone ahead and I’ve
finished a [full] country & western album.
The original 1986 Red Negligee… album included the song In The Same Motel, although it had been issued the same year on a
Backfire 45 and an album of the same name was mooted, according to the label, but not issued. In The Same Motel must have the
unique distinction of appearing on four labels in the same guise and in short order. Our man is in room 103 and he realizes the
pleasurable screams coming from room 104 belong to his lady. (Ah but what is he doing there in the first place!?) A simple but
effective song, structure-wise, both the Bad and Gold Thumb labels – They belonged to some gentlemen out of Georgia. – also
promoted it as an A-side, while the Ichiban-distributed CMC label coupled it with the aforementioned Come Back Pussy. The
accompanying CMC album, In Your Face, also included Fat Girls, which had been issued on a Gold Thumb single and is driven
along by the Midnight Passion Band, including Dicky’s cousins, Pye Williams and Phil Williams on guitar and bass respectively –
They are both deceased now. – and Dicky himself on keyboards. (To add to the label complications, the Red Negligee… album
appeared on Bad as well as Backfire!)
A second album was delivered for CMC – Dicky was unable to advise just what the letters CMC stood for – in 1991. The downtempo
I Want You For Breakfast – quite subtle when compared with the likes of Marvin Sease and Chuck Roberson who had emerged by
that time – was chosen as both a 45 and album (title), while the latter also boasted more of Dicky’s stories in the intense Lost My
Woman To A Woman and the warm slow, Letter From A Soldier. You Hurt The Wrong Man continued the overall southern flavor of
the set but sadly, this time around, the Midnight Passion Band were missing and programming was the order of the day, resulting
in much of the effectiveness being lost. Not so, however, with the Full Grown Man album, which arrived some four years later on
the main Ichiban (Blues) label. Very much worth the wait, along the way we find the impassioned soul ballad, I Live To Love You,
the horn-supported, downtempo Beer Drinkin’ Man, Fall Out Of Love, with those country overtones and a pounding Stronger.
Certainly his most well-rounded outing, Full Grown Man should have finally ensured the name of Dicky Williams was up there with
the best of them but, clearly, Ichiban failed to market the album as well as they should have. Dicky concurred. I agree but they were
having financial troubles and some of the people were leaving. Same problems as ever I guess.
Undeterred, Dicky returned a year later with a new venture, Where Would I Be…Without My Woman???, on Bald Eagle, which,
among the fifteen tracks, revisited In The Same Motel and I Want You For Breakfast and, with the gently rolling She Jingled My Bells,
ensured some more tongue-in-cheek fun. Bald Eagle, that was my label, he said. That’s what I do. I cut these records and I know
they are good records and I have to go and make enough money so I can keep on feeding my wife, because she’s such a beautiful
person and she’s with me in all the things that I do. So I have to earn enough to keep a nice place to live and keep a car in the
drive, so I go ahead and I put it out. I make enough to sustain my bills for a year or so and then I go and cut some more and do the
same thing all over again.
When he is not recording, Dicky is ever the performer and would be an ideal shoe-in at some of the European soul-blues festivals.
I’d really like to come back to Europe if they would have me, he said. I was last there in 96, in Paris, at Le Meridien. That was a
Right now, in addition to the country & western album, Dicky is busy completing his collaboration with guitarist, Ken Massey,
expected to be billed with the title of Salt And Pepper as by Dicky Williams & the Ken Massey group. (Massey describes the choice
of Salt & Pepper¹ as ³…a play on the current dialogue – diatribe! – in the blues community of black versus blue-eyed blues.), [note:
subsequent to this article going to press, CDS Records has decided to entitle the release I’m Back Again] That’s blues
because some of my friends and his wanted me to do some blues, Dicky advised. This album is going to be one of my greatest
albums. I was introduced to Ken by another great friend of mine, a terrific young man by the name of Billy Dee. He called me, he
said, I’ve got a guy I want you to meet, he loves the Lord just like you do. And I had just done my country & western album and he
said, well this guy can do anything. He’s a great musician, I think you’d work well together. So he introduced me to him and we’ve
been getting along just like two peas in a pod. I’m pretty sure we’ll complete in the next three to four months. We’re not rushing
and you can’t rush Ken because he won’t let you rush him. He’s so efficient at what he does and he wants everything to be just
right. He’s just that way and I’m glad he is.