PATTI DAHLSTROM: When I knew we were going to meet, I asked
Kingsley Abbott and Artie Wayne, two music business insiders,
what they would most like to know about your history in the
industry. Hands down they wanted to know about Motown. Is
it true you gave Berry Gordy his start?
ANDRE WILLIAMS: Well, actually, yes, he was working in the
steel mill and what happened was he had started writin' some
songs for this one boy
this was the first songs that
he wrote was for this one boy
Andre sips from his Bacardi and ponders
PD: Was this in the days of the early Motown Revues?
AW: Exactly, yes. Then he had this little young boy who was
wrecking up everything, which was Stevie Wonder. I talked
him into keeping him because he wanted to get rid of him because
Stevie was just a total nuisance. And I kept telling him,
"Berry, Berry, just keep him because he's very talented
and he's gonna be something." So Berry finally took my
advice and decided to keep him and you seen what happened.
PD: How long was this before Stevie's first hit, "Fingertips"?
AW: It was within the first 18 months that "Fingertips"
PD: Were artist treated differently than musicians or was
it a happy family, all struggling together?
AW: Everybody, I would say, were equal. I would say that
the artists was treated the same as the musicians.
PD: On the road with the revues, you were in charge and in
touch with Detroit?
AW: Once we was out of the road, I was basically in charge.
PD: Did you realize that something really special was happening
AW: Yes. I knew that Berry was going to be a giant. I was
not interested in being a giant, 'cause I've never been interested
in being the head honcho. But I knew then that Berry had what
it took to be a monster. I knew he had the magic. I knew he
was a perfectionist. It had to be right or it was not going
PD: You know what I loved about him? When I first signed
and I was one of the few white people, there was racism toward
the white writers. I went up and told Berry about it, and
he would not stand for it.
AW: That's right.
PD: Berry said, "The only thing that matters is
Andre and Patti in sync: Talent!
PD: He was a fair good man.
AW: Absolutely, always, you got that part right.
PD: As Berry gained success, how accessible was he to you?
AW: Right there. Right there. Whenever, wherever, however,
he was there. He was very unusual because it is very unusual
to get to the boss as quickly and as easily as you could get
to Berry. Didn't you find that?
PD: What about the days with Chess Records
AW: I don't know how I could really put this but I never
had no trouble getting to the bosses. From Berry to Leonard
to Phil to all of the bosses, I never had a problem getting
directly to 'em.
PD: Leonard Chess?
AW: Yes, Leonard was the boss. Phil was Leonard's brother.
You always went to Phil first before you got to Leonard. Once
you got to Leonard you got your job done. Phil could manipulate
Leonard and get it in action, and Phil was OK according to
Leonard. It was up to Phil's recommendation, but Leonard had
to ink it.
PD: Jo Ann Garrett, whom you produced for Chess, was she
AW: Jo Ann was my wife. She was a very very very talented
lady. Way younger than me, of course, but for some reason
I could never get her off the ground. Leonard done everything
he possibly could cause he was the first one who did an album
on her. He did everything he possibly could, it just didn't
PD: Have you found that to be true in your career that people
with some talent get very famous and some who are brilliant
can't get off the ground?
PD: Why do you think that is?
AW: Actually, I think it's the producer's reputation. You've
been in the record business so you know what I'm saying. If
a few folks don't like the producer, the artist suffers.
PD: So you are saying it's political?
AW: Yes, that's the word.
PD: What inspired you to get into music when you were young?
AW: I found myself between a rock and a hard place. Number
one, I didn't have the education that a black man needed to
be successful. Number two, I didn't have no direction because
I didn't have no one to lead or guide me; I had to make my
own way. I didn't have no
(he searches for what was
PD: So you weren't given moral direction?
AW: No, none. That's it. And then I wasn't the most well
liked guy in the music business.
PD: Why do you think that was?
AW: Well, Hell, because I was not taking nobody's advice.
I was cuttin' my own path.
PD: Did that ever serve you well?
AW: No, it was not a good thing because generally you had
to be very political and I was not the kind of guy who would
let the kind of guy, who I knew didn't know, tell me what
PD: You have to be able to live with yourself, don't you?
AW: Well you have to be able to adjust to their bullshit.
PD: Who would you like to work with now? Artist or producers,
anyone you like? Alicia Keys?
AW: That is a very good question. I think the boy that jumped
out the window in New York, the one who committed suicide,
Donny Hathaway. He started out as a musician for Chess and
wound up being a multi multi talented guy.
PD: Can I see you after the show and we can talk some more?
AW: Yes, let's do that. I am really receptive to your questions.