Is it true, pretty baby, what they said about you? This week, two music icons were taken from us. R&B-soul shouter Andre Williams and surf guitar originator Dick Dale. Something ain't right here.
I had the pleasure of sharing the bill and playing with these legends, and I've had the chance to meet both of them. Dick Dale had the largest guitar sound in the world. It wasn't just loud, it was a picturesque, volcanic seascape; it was the roar of the untamed beast within.
One night, The Frantic Flattops — my band at the time — were playing select dates with Dale. We were backstage in Cleveland one night, celebrating Dale's return from "getting his head together" in the hills of Northern California. He taught us to tell if a piece of jade is real with a simple piece of hair. And he always spoke of himself in the third person. "Dick Dale likes you guys."
But the most memorable encounter was a hot night at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago around 1992. When my band got the opportunity to open the show for Andre "Mister Rhythm" Willliams, who had penned classics like "Jail Bait," "Bacon Fat," and "Shake a Tailfeather."
Now, The Frantic Flattops had learned a rock 'n' roll barnburner called "Is It True?" I had first heard it on a live Barrence Whitfield record. It was a salacious slab of breakneck rhythm and blues, and we had begun closing our sets with it. I had no idea it was an Andre Williams tune. So that night, as so many nights before, we closed out our set with "Is It True?"
Andre was in the dressing room tying his tie in front of a busted mirror when I strolled in sweaty and disheveled. He wore a red pinstripe suit. He was tack-sharp. He addressed me immediately.
"You guys are playing my music," he said. I thought he was being complimentary, like, "You guys are playing my kind of music."
I was clueless. "Thanks, "I said.
He reiterated. "No motherfucker, you're playing my song."
So halfway into his set, he brought it up with the audience. "What should I do with 'em?" he asked. A light bulb went on over his head. "I know," he said. "Let's get them up here and do it the right way." That was the night I played "Is It True?" with the legendary Andre Williams. It was cool — downright Frigidaire.
A couple years later, Williams played the Bug Jar in Rochester. I got dressed up and made the scene. I went down to the dressing room to say hello, not really expecting him to remember me.
"Hey Andre, I just wanted to say —" He cut me off, pointed at me and smiled big. He remembered.
"That's right," he said with his gold tooth display. "The 'Is It True?' Boys."R.I.P.