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Forgotten Rockers – Part 1

We all remember Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly, founding fathers of rock who wrote and sang their own material. But one founding father has been almost totally forgotten.

He wrote and sang early rock rave-ups like “Bony Maronie” and “Short Fat Fannie,” but was dead and gone before the age of forty-five. If not for one kid from Liverpool, his contributions to rock & roll might be as forgotten as he is.

The man is Larry Williams and the kid from Liverpool who helped keep his music alive is John Lennon.

Williams was born in New Orleans in 1935. Twenty years later, he met and became friends with Little Richard, who was recording for Specialty Records in NOLA at the time. When Richard left the rock scene to become of minister in 1957, Specialty’s front man, Richard Blackwell quickly recruited Williams and started grooming him to be Richard’s replacement.

Williams’ first two singles for Specialty (the aforementioned “Bony” and “Fannie”) both hit the Top 20 on Billboard’s singles chart, each becoming a million-seller. But his subsequent singles failed to chart in the U.S. The situation was different over in the UK, particularly the northern part of the UK where he developed a strong following with the young teddy boys who were leaving skiffle music behind and catching up on American Rock & Roll.

Young John Lennon was quite taken with Williams’ music and so, worked quite a few of his numbers into the sets Lennon performed with his bands the Quarrymen and a little combo eventually named the Beatles. When it came time to record, the Beatles’ early albums are filled with Larry Williams covers, including “Bad Boy,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” and “Slowdown.” Lennon covered “Just Because” on one of his solo albums and many other artists have covered “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”

Sadly, Williams had trouble with drug addiction that hampered his career as he moved into the 1960s. Eventually, he became part of Little Richard's band (after Richard dropped the ministry and went back to rock), even producing some of Richard’s albums for Okeh Records.

Williams was found dead of a gunshot wound in 1980. Officially ruled a suicide, there are those who claim the death resulted from his involvement with drug dealers and prostitution. If you love that old-time rock & roll, Williams’ greatest hits album is still in print and well worth a download or purchase.

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