While still in the after-glow of enjoying Lee Shot Williams' debut set on Ecko, Hot "Shot", I got a chance to meet the gentleman and talk about his career, when he was over here in Finland last summer to give an exciting performance together with Pat Brown.
LEE SHOT WILLIAMS
Lee was born as Henry Lee Williams on May 21, 1938, in a small country town called Lexington in Mississippi. Today he is the only survivor in the family, as his parents and two sisters have all passed away. On the other hand, he has seven children of his own. "I got an aunt, Helen Thomas, who used to play guitar a little bit. She taught my cousins how to play guitar. I had a cousin, who passed away, called Big Smokey Smothers. My other cousin, Little Smokey, is still living."
Lee's nickname, Shot, isn't caused by his tough temper or anything like that. On the contrary, Lee leaves you with a very easy and nice impression. "I put my suit on, when I was a kid going to church, and my mother would call me 'her little shot', so after Little Smokey Smothers and I got to Chicago and started playing music, they started calling me 'shot'."
Lee started his singing in local gospel groups in Mississippi, but was soon to switch over to blues and r&b. "When I was real young, I used to listen to cats like Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. Then I used to like B.B. King and Bobby Bland. Later years I got to like Wilson Pickett and Bobby Womack. When I really got into music business, I started listening to r&b, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King. In the era when I came up, I liked that kind of music."
Lee didn't leave Mississippi for Chicago, until he was twenty. "I headed to Detroit earlier (in '54). I was there, when my mother passed away, but I wasn't singing there. In Chicago me and Little Smokey started playing around with Magic Sam and Buddy Guy. I started kind of singing a little bit in '60. In '61 me and Little Smokey formed our own band, went on for a couple of years and then I started touring with Earl Hooker." Later years Lee also used to work with Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Bobby Rush and Lynn White. "In '82 her manager now was my manager, Willie Bean, so that's why me and Lynn did a lot of touring together."
In '62 Lee made his recording debut on a small Foxy label with two self-written tunes, a blues shuffle called Hello Baby and a slow blues, I'm Trying.
"Everybody that was around Chicago was making records, so I went to talk to Richard Stamz. He and son-in-law had a company together (Foxy). He said 'you know, you gotta write your song, have your own songs', and that's when I wrote Hello Baby, and I went and recorded it. On that my first record Phil Upchurch plays bass, Freddy Robinson plays guitar, Little Mac was on harmonica and Billy Davenport was on drums." Even though Lee had by then been playing with Earl Hooker, Earl is not on that single.
Within the next two years Lee had three blues singles released on Federal (I'm Tore Up, You're Welcome To The Club, When You Move You Lose). "I started dealing with a guy named Sonny Thompson. He was a&r man up there, and he recorded for Federal, so he took me up to record there. As a matter of fact, he recorded a lot of people, a lot of Chicago acts up there, Freddy King, Big Smokey Smothers, Bobby King."
Lee appeared next on Palos with two self-written blues singles in '66 and '67, The Millionaire and Mark My Words, the latter one together with Jo Armstead. "Palos was just a small Chicago label. Sonny Saunders recorded me for that label. I hooked up with Jo from a guy named Mel Collins, who started managing her." Mel also became Jo's husband for a couple of years in the late 60s.
I LIKE YOUR STYLE
Next Lee recorded in '68 for Syl Johnson's Shama label a track, which was to become like his signature song, a swaying bouncer called I Like Your Style. "Syl just happened to know me, and I know his brother, Jimmie Johnson. We were all playing around in Chicago. I was riding with Syl down to Memphis. He went out there to record, and we was going to do some gigs down in Louisiana. In the meantime I told him I had this song, and he asked 'do you wanna record'. So me and Willie Mitchell's band got together, we put 'I Like Your Style' music together and I recorded it that day." The record became quite popular locally, but didn't chart nationally. Lee covered it for his latest Hot "Shot" CD, and Syl also had his version out on his '94 Delmark set, Back In The Game.
I Like Your Style, however, was credited not only to Lee, but also to Carl Smith. "I wrote that song by myself, 'bout '67, but I gave him some credits of it. Like then, to open up the door for yourself, you had to give up something." Lee's second Shama single, Get Some Order, was inferior.
In '70 Lee released on Sussex a single called I Feel An Urge Coming On, which is not the Jo Armstead song. "Gene Barge produced and wrote it." Two years later Lee recorded for United Artists his version of the Falcons / Wilson Pickett gem, I Found A Love, but, even though the record was released on a major label, it went unnoticed, which Lee claims was due to poor promotion.
An energetic r&b mid-pacer called Checking Out, arranged and produced by Cash McCall, was released on Jewel in '73 and backed with a soul ballad, Baby Baby, and it was followed two years later by Little Milton's # 1 '65 hit, We're Gonna Make It, on Outta Sight.
Lee's first album was released in '77 on Roots, and distributed by Henry Stone's T.K. corporation. It was a collaboration with Gene Barge called Country Disco, although there wasn't that much disco to it. "We just picked the title, because we wrote the song called Country Disco. T.K. released it also in Japan, and said it did very well over there."
In the eighties, more precisely between '82 and '87, Lee had six r&b singles released on small Tchula, True, Dis-Muke, O'ona and Chelsea labels (It Ain't Me No More, Two Warm Bodies, Times Are Tough, So Much To Give Baby, I've Got A Problem, Drop Your Laundry).
"The labels are from Memphis and Mississippi. Dis-Muke and O'ona are Willie Bean's labels. `I've Got A Problem' has been done by a lot of artists since I did it, but originally it was done by Jesse Anderson" (in '70). Times Are Tough was originally recorded by its co-writer, George Jackson, and now Lee has covered it for his Hot "Shot" CD.
In the 80s Lee was working out of Chicago, mainly south and south-west areas, but moved then to Memphis in '88 and about a year ago to Jackson, Mississippi.
His first 90s release was a cassette-only compilation called I Like Your Style (in '91) on Lee's and Willie Bean's 4 Way label, and it included mainly previous small label singles. The next single, Make Me Holler on 4 Way in '92, was covered on the Hot "Shot" CD, and it was also included on the Shot Of Rhythm & Blues CD, which was released in Japan only (on Vivid Sound). In Chicago Lee did a session with Little Smokey Smothers singing on four tracks on the Bossman CD (Black Magic in '93).
Also Lee's next CD, Cold Shot (on Black Magic in '95), was recorded in Chicago with Little Smokey Smothers returning the favour by playing guitar on the set. The CD was produced by Dick Shurman. On this rather bluesy set Lee not only covers some of his earlier recordings (Drop Your Laundry, I Feel An Urge Coming On and I'm Tore Up), but does also his interpretations of four soul hits, If It Wasn't For Bad Luck (Ray Charles & Jimmy Lewis), Neither One Of Us (Gladys Knight & The Pips), Who Is He And What Is He To You (Bill Withers, Creative Source) and Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You (Wilson Pickett).
Last year saw the release of Hot "Shot" on John Ward's Ecko label, and when reviewing the set (in 4/96) I noticed slight Tyrone Davis influences. "It may sound like it, when you do a bass line something like people relate to Tyrone... but I don't like to sing like Tyrone.
It's a great record, all the Jackson loved it. I've never had a record like that before. I've got kind of mixed feelings about it, cause in the United States it should be bigger than it is. There's another way they could have done with this promotion, in marketing the record. This record could have been so big for me, if they had marketed it right. I got to wait and see, where we are heading with John Ward."
Lee, however, has his mind set already on the next set. "We're gonna have a lot of new stuff, but I've got at least three or four cover tunes I wanna do." A couple of candidates include Mark My Words and Welcome To The Club.
According to Lee, r&b scene in the States is far from being satisfactory, but the music's still alive. "They play a little blues on Saturday, in the morning, or on Sunday evening. WMTR in Jackson, Mississippi, they play r&b and blues eight hours a day, seven days a week. Then you got another station in Chicago, SSD, they play the blues twenty-four hours a day, on Sunday they also got gospel. WATC in Montgomery, Alabama, they play from three o'clock till sundown.
When we're talking about the blues in the 50s and the 60s, all radio stations were playing r&b, now they're not. Main stations are playing hip hop and rock, so that's what the people got to listen to."