Black Music Month Interview Series: Legendary Lenny Williams Speaks to UB

Lenny Williams the legendary singer, best known for 1978’s “Cause I Love You,” is currently preparing to release “Still in the Game,” which will be his seventeenth studio album.

Lenny Williams possesses one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music. With his rich, passionate vocal style, he is rightfully regarded as one of R&B’s most influential soul men. Williams began his musical career making records that have subsequently become R&B and Pop classics, tunes like the mega-hit “Cause I love You” (recorded on his solo album) and “So Very Hard To Go’, which he recorded as the lead singer for Tower of Power. Lenny’s style has transcended into the new millennium, influencing many of today’s newest R&B and Pop vocalists.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Lenny moved to Oakland at a very young age. Learning to play the
trumpet in elementary school fueled his interest in music. Lenny’s skills as a vocalist were first nurtured by singing in gospel choirs and groups around the Bay Area. He was in good company working alongside up-and-coming artist Sly Stone, Andre Crouch, Billy Preston and members of the Hawkins family, Edwin, Walter and Tremaine.

After winning several local talent contests, Williams signed his first record deal with Fantasy records. He cut two singles for the label including “Lisa’s Gone”, now regarded as an R & B classic among British soul music lovers, and “Feelin Blue”, written by John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival. Lenny then spent a brief spell with Atlantic Records before deciding to put his solo career on hold in 1972, when he joined the emerging funk band Tower of Power. A string of hits ensued, including ” So Very Hard To Go’, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of The Stream)”, written by Lenny and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. During his two years with the group, Lenny participated in three milestone albums, the gold LP Tower Of Power, Back To Oakland, and Urban Renewal, while touring non-stop throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

At the end of 1975 Lenny returned to his solo projects. Initially signing with Motown in 1972, he later moved to ABC Records in 1977 (which was then purchased by MCA Records in 1979). Over the next four years. Lenny scored ten charted hits, including “Shoo Doo FuFu Ooh”, ‘Choosing You”, “You Got ME Running”, “Love Hurt Me Love Healed Me”, and “Midnight Girl”. Lenny recorded four more albums from 1977 to 1980, Choosing You, his first gold LP, Spark Of Love, Love Current, and Let’s Do It Today. These albums established a solid and loyal following for Lenny, and the impact of his music can still be felt, particularly the mega-hit “Cause I Love You”, from Spark Of Love. This song crosses generational boundaries, and has frequently been used on “old school” and “slow jam” compilations throughout the years.

Over the past few years, Lenny has continued his solo career, touring the US, Europe and South Africa In 2004 and 2005 Lenny Williams and Kanye West were honored recipients of the BMI song writers award for the song “Over Night Celebrity” recorded by rapper Twista. He has recently shared stages with Aretha Franklin, The Whispers, Rick James, Boney James, Bobby Womack, Ohio Players, Al Green, Usher, K-Ci and JoJo, Alicia Keyes, Anthony Hamilton and Frankie Beverly and Maze. Lenny has also expanded his multi-dimensional career to include acting, starring in several stages plays “Love On Lay Away” starring Deborah Cox, actor Mel Jackson and Martha Wash. He also appeared in “What Men Don’t Tell” starring Kenny Latimore, Shante Moore and Dottie Peoples the hit stage play “When A Woman’s Fed Up”.

Recently Aries from UrbanBridgez.com spoke to the legendary singer/songwriter and actor about his new single “Still,” his upcoming album, his start in the music industry and being signed to Motown, what newer artists he would like to work with and much more!

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UrbanBridgez.com: Tell fans about your new single “Still.”
Lenny Williams: It’s a song that I’m very proud of. I was introduced to the single by a friend name Ken Wilson. Who’s an music industry executive. He heard the song and thought that it would be really good for me. So I decided to do it and then I found out about the songwriters Kipper Jones and Keith Crouch, so I was wondering if he was related to Andre Crouch. I did a little investigating and found out that it’s his nephew. It’s Ben Crouch’s son and I grew up with the Crouch’s, I lived in Oakland and we would go down to L.A. all of the time. We fellowshipped at our church and things like that so I just felt like it was a full circle that I would get a chance to do a song by one of the Crouch’s. A new generation of Crouch’s.

UrbanBridgez.com: Tell us about the new album, who you’re working on and when fans can expect it?
Lenny Williams: I’m working with a producer by the name of Derek Allen, his nickname is D.O.A. and he’s like a genius to me. He did Smokey Norful’s record I Need You Now and he played with Janet Jackson and Lionel Richie for years, he’s been around. So I go to Sacramental California to hang out in the studio with him. So it’s just been really really exciting. We’ve go about 12-13 songs that we’re going to put on the new CD and I haven’t named the new album yet but it should be out shortly.

UrbanBridgez.com: How did you get your start in the industry?
Lenny Williams: I was in college, a friend of mine talked me into going down to a nightclub and be in a talent show. I was kind of hesitant about doing it, but he talked me into it. I won and I went back a couple of more times and I won everytime. One night I was there singing and this record company executive named Ray Shanklin, he was an A&R for a small record label called Fantasy Records in the Bay Area. He asked me if I wanted to make a record and I said of course! I use to dream about it every night, he then introduced me to the owner of the company Sal Zaentz. Who went on to produce a movie called Amadeus and some others, he was real successful. Then they had a young kid working in the stock room by the name of John Fogerty who went on to form a group called Creedence Clearwater Revival. So that’s how I got my start and watching John write songs with him teaching me helped me get into songwriting.

UrbanBridgez.com: Alot of people know you from Tower of Power, what would you say was your biggest achievement when you were in that group?
Lenny Williams: I would say having a #1 record with So Very Hard to Go, then a top 10 with Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream) which I was honored to write that with Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Just the chance to travel around and do music and travel to Europe, to make music that people love and also music that musicians love. I listen to some of that stuff now and I’ll be like man, this stuff is 40 years old and still sounds good (laughs).

UrbanBridgez.com: You were once signed to Motown, tell us about that experience of being signed to such a legendary label?
Lenny Williams: Yeah, it was interesting. Just growing up in that whole era of Motown and when I signed the contract and saw my name on that beautiful blue label, I was just so excited. I loved being on Motown, I wasn’t there very long I did one album. Actually I had done that album even before I got to Motown, I was in Tower of Power and on Warner Bros. when I did that album. I left Warner and they let me take it to Motown. Actually the first rendition of Because I Love You was on that album. It didn’t have the talking in it and it was faster. We did it later on subsequently and that record became the big hit.

UrbanBridgez.com: You’ve worked with so many artists, who are some you have yet to work with that you would like to?
Lenny Williams: I would love to work with will.i.am or somebody like Jay-Z, No I.D. the producer, just people like that. Timbaland and I wouldn’t mind doing something with Mary J. Blige which I’ve always loved. I would love to do a duet with her, she’s so soulful. I was in Aruba once and opened up a show for Alicia Keys and Anthony Hamilton was there. I was singing Because I Love You and he performed the night before and somebody said come on Anthony sing with Lenny. So I sang it with him and oh boy he sounded so great. So I would love to do something with him. Kind of like a Sam & Dave type of thing or something like that.

UrbanBridgez.com: You recently started a record label recently, tell us about that and your long terms goals with it?
Lenny Williams: Yeah, I’ve always been watching the youngsters for like the last 15 or so years and starting their own labels and selling their records out the back of their cars and I go to Oakland and in the hood. I see some little dude who’s like 15 and he’s selling his CD’s and wrote on it what the songs are, selling it for like $5 or $3 dollars whatever you want to give him. I always buy it because he could be selling dope or doing something else crazy, so they’re out here trying to make an honest living. So I always find something to give them. I talk to them and they may not even know who I am, so I tell them I’m a CEO and have my company. I’ve done so much in the music industry, but I’ve never had my own label or anything. So I wanted to try it and I enjoy it. I have to say that I have a new found respect for record labels because people think it’s easy. Just like picking the name and all that stuff but you have to put your records on iTunes and go through all of the different stuff, you have to do the artwork and things. Just so many different things like getting all the names of the writers and publishers and, whether they’re with BMI, ASCAP or SESAC. Then figuring out are they’re getting .8 cent a record, what you’re going to pay them for mechanical royalties, it’s like oh boy it’s more than a notion! You know, but it teaches you the inside because before I was just an artist. Did my music, turned it in and bam! I’ve been a publisher, so I did understand that aspect of it because I own mine. But all of the other stuff labels do, I had no idea. I guess I did know but I took it for granted because they did it and I didn’t have to worry about it. It’s hard work but exciting and you reap the benefits especially if the record sales and they’re successful.

UrbanBridgez.com: Any last words for your fans?
Lenny Williams: I just want them to know I appreciate all of the support I’ve had, I’ve been out here for 40 something years and people buy my records and come to see me when I do shows and things like that. When I do a play they come, I just want them to know I appreciate it and I don’t take their support for granted. And I’ll try my best to not do anything to ever disappoint them!

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