Larry Williams In-depth Biography
A rough, rowdy rock & roll} singer, Larry Williams} had several hits in the late '50s, several of which -- "Bony Maroney,"} "Dizzy, Miss Lizzy,"} "Short Fat Fannie,"} "Bad Boy,"} "She Said Yeah"} -- became genuine rock & roll} classics and were recorded by British Invasion} groups; John Lennon}, in particular, was a fan of Williams}, recording several of his songs over the course of his career.
As a child in New Orleans, Williams} learned how to play piano. When he was a teenager, he and his family moved to Oakland, CA, where he joined a local R&B} group called the Lemon Drops}. In 1954, when he was 19 years old, Williams} went back to New Orleans for a visit. During his trip, he met Lloyd Price}, who was recording for Specialty Records}. Price} hired the teenager as his valet and introduced him to Robert "Bumps" Blackwell}, the label's house producer. Soon, the label's owner, Art Rupe}, signed Williams} to a solo recording contract.
Just after Specialty} signed Larry Williams}, Specialty} lost Little Richard}, who had been their biggest star and guaranteed hitmaker. Little Richard} decided to abandon rock & roll} for the ministry shortly after Williams} cut his first single, a cover of Price}'s "Just Because,"} with Richard}'s backing band; "Just Because"} peaked at number 11 on the R&B} charts in the spring of 1957. After Richard} left the label, the label put all of its energy into making Williams} a star, giving him an image makeover and a set of material -- ranging from hard R&B} and rock & roll} to ballads} -- that was quite similar to Richard}'s hits.
Williams}' first post-Little Richard} single was the raucous "Short Fat Fannie,"} which shot to number one on the R&B} charts and number five on the pop} charts in the summer of 1957. It was followed in the fall by "Bony Maronie,"} which hit number four on the R&B} charts and number 14 on the pop} charts. Williams} wasn't able to maintain that momentum, however. "You Bug Me, Baby"} and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy,"} his next two singles, missed the R&B} charts but became minor pop} hits in late 1957 and early 1958. Despite the relative failure of these singles, Williams}' records became popular import items in Britain; the Beatles} would cover both sides of the "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"} single (the B-side was "Slow Down"}) in the mid-'60s. However, Williams}' commercial fortunes in America continued to decline, despite Specialty}'s release of a constant stream of singles and one full-length album.
In 1959, Williams} was arrested for selling narcotics, which caused Specialty} to drop him from the record label. During the '60s, he drifted through a number of labels in the early '60s, recording songs for Chess}, Mercury}, Island}, and Decca}. By the mid-'60s, he had hooked up Johnny "Guitar" Watson} and the duo cut several sides for OKeh Records} in the mid- and late '60s, including the Top 40 R&B} hits "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"} (spring 1967) and "Nobody,"} which was recorded with Kaleidoscope} (early 1968). Williams} also became a house producer for OKeh Records} in 1966, although very few of his productions became hits.
Between 1968 and and 1978, Williams} was inactive, recording nothing and performing very little. In 1978, he released a funk} album, That's Larry Williams}, for Fantasy Records} that sold poorly and received bad reviews. In 1980, Williams} was found dead in his Los Angeles home; he died of a gunshot wound to his head. The medical examiners called the death a suicide, but rumors persisted for years after his death that he was murdered because of his involvement in drugs, crime and -- allegedly -- prostitution.
A compilation of Williams}' biggest hits and best-known songs entitled Bad Boy} was released on Specialty Records} in 1989. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide