By John Morthland.
Jerry Williams: Gone (Real Gone)
Think of blue-eyed r&b and soul singer Jerry Williams as the one who got away—or the one who blew it, depending on your point of view. This is actually the reissue of a 1979 album that in fact never came out at all, thanks to a serious dispute between the Fort Worth, Texas, singer and Warner Brothers, the label he recorded it for. Hence, Williams, who died a decade ago, is primarily known, to the few who know of him at all, as a writer of provocative songs done by the likes of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt. B.B. King and Delbert McClinton. He’s always been one of the best-kept secrets in the music business.
Which is a shame, because Williams shoulda been a contender as a performer. By the time he’d cut this, he’d already released one album as a member of the group High Mountain Hoedown and one solo album, both of which showed a fair amount of style, both of which were met with absolute indifference. Neither, however, suggested he had something of this power and depth in him.
Gone opens with the gritty and insouciant title song, unbelievably catchy and deeply soulful at the same time, with an insinuating sax solo highlighting the horn section, and it never looks back from there. Though the album is not the work of an r&b purist, his grounding in black music is unforced and irrefutable. His smoky interpretation of “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” is as strong and sad as Otis Redding’s original, just in a different way, and Steve Cropper’s guitar work is even more exquisite than it was on the Redding version. Every other song likewise gets its own distinctive treatment: “Easy on Yourself” is adamant, but also loose and airy; “Call to Arms” has sass and spunk, with delicate flute lines providing contrast to a nasty guitars; Horace Silver’s “Song to My Father” gets a swirling sambaesque treatment; “Givin’ It Up for Your Love” (a Top 10 single for Delbert McClinton in 1980) has a choppy, near-reggae feel; and “Philosopher” is an exuberant soul strut. Williams goes out on “This Song,” a droning wild-card totally unlike anything else on the album.
He pours himself into the music, singing throughout with conviction and natural grace and dexterity, emphasizing, as all good soul singers do, connections between the spiritual and the carnal. The lean but punchy arrangements pass the glory around rather than giving a lot of emphasis to any one player (though this has to be the only album ever to feature both Duck Dunn of Stax/Booker T & the MGs and Motown sessions ace James Jamerson on bass). Yet Gone was a goner before it could even come out—only a few promo copies made it to critics and radio—and Williams spent the rest of his life writing new songs and trying to regain a foothold in the record biz. He died in 2005, in exile on the Dutch Antilles island of St. Maarten. Now, finally, there’s a little posthumous redemption, better late than never.