Zephire Andre Williams (born November 1, 1936) is an American R&B and punk blues musician who started his career in the 1950s at Fortune Records in Detroit.
Born in Bessemer, Alabama, United States, Williams lived in a housing project with his mother until she died when he was six years of age. A sly and smart young boy, his "aunties" raised him until he was around 16. He then set out on his own and moved to Detroit, Michigan. There, he became friends with Jack and Devora Brown, owners of Fortune Records which was located at the back of a barber shop. Williams would become labels mates with fellow Fortune Records stars Nolan Strong and Nathaniel Mayer.
He then became lead singer for The 5 Dollars in 1955, which already had a contract with Fortune Records. Though most of the songs were billed as 'Andre Williams and the Don Juans' (on Epic in 1956 billed as 'Andre Mr Rhythm Williams and his New Group'), "Bacon Fat" and "Jail Bait" were solo efforts. "Bacon Fat" hit #9 on the Billboard R&B Charts in 1957. "Bacon Fat" (written by Williams) was such a success that Fortune Records sold the song to Epic Records, a much larger distributor (released as Epic 5-9196 "Bacon Fat/Just because of a Kiss"). Since "Bacon Fat" and "Jail Bait" were such successes, Williams figured that "talking instead of singing" was a better idea for him, for he did not have as good a voice as some other singers from the 1950s. In 1960 Fortune released a complete LP, of all of his singles with the Don Juans, which was titled Jail Bait (rereleased in 1986). This was just the start of Williams' nationwide fame.
In 1960 he appeared on Motown's Miracle Record label releasing "Rosa Lee".
In the early 1960s, Williams co-wrote Stevie Wonder's first song, "Thank You for Loving Me." Williams' "Shake a Tail Feather" was also a hit in 1963 for the Five Du-Tones and then for Ike & Tina Turner. Alvin Cash & the Crawlers also made a hit out of the Williams song "Twine Time". As well as making these hits, Williams also supervised the making of two or more albums by The Contours. Additionally, in the '60s, Williams was the manager and roadie for soul singer Edwin Starr.
In 1966 Williams released two records on the Avin Record Label, then two records were released on Detroit's Wingate label: "Loose Juice" and "Do it". Then on the Ric-Tic label in 1967 he released "You Got It and I Want It".
In 1968, Williams was signed to Chess Records on Checker, Chicago's major blues label. He was back... wearing velvet lavender suits and playing "bucket-of-blood" styled joints. Chess released many hits for Williams — "Humpin' Bumpin' and Thumpin'" and "Cadillac Jack" in particular. Then, he began to work with many unknown black labels and release songs like "Sweet Little Pussy Cat" and "Rib Tips, Pts. 1 & 2." In 1968, Williams collaborated with the Natural Bridge Bunch to release "Pig Snoots," a novelty song about a man named Ricky who would "come all way cross town to get me some snoots". In the 1970s, Williams wrote some songs for Parliament (band) and Funkadelic, two popular funk groups. (Comedian Redd Foxx then dubbed Andre Williams his most famous nickname, Mr. Rhythm). Once again, Williams began to produce cuts for Ike Turner.
Throughout the 1980s, Andre Williams was in poverty because of his drug addictions. He lived in Chicago, Illinois; at one point, he was homeless and begging for money on a Chicago bridge.
In 1996, Andre Williams released Mr. Rhythm, which featured new renditions of his old tunes from the "Jail Bait" era. Some included "The Greasy Chicken," "Mean Jean," and "Pass the Biscuits Please." It was a definite comeback for Williams, but most of the crowd had already forgotten about him, and wanted newer-styled music.
He changed his style with 1998's Silky. Considered the "world's sleaziest album ever", Silky revolutionized the punky style, dubbed sleaze rock. Mark Deming speaks about Silky: It's "noise-spattered, stripped-down, roots-punk assault, and the results are flat-out nuts." Though sleaze rockers idolized Williams, most critics preferred his original style.
In 1999, he began his relationship with Bloodshot Records by recording a country album with The Sadies, entitled Red Dirt.
In 2000, Andre Williams released The Black Godfather. The noisy, electric, fuzzy sound was back, with two songs backed by The Dirtbombs. By this time, Andre was already back on stage, performing at the "bucket-of-blood" clubs again. 'The Black Godfather' became his new nickname, along with the outdated 'Mr. Rhythm'.
In 2001 he discussed his recent conversion to Judaism and circumcision.
In 2002–2003 he toured with the Dutch sleaze rock band Green Hornet.
A return to soul-style music came with Aphrodisiac in 2006. "The result is a more laid-back and funky groove that's soulful but potent at the same time, fusing '70s blaxploitation sounds, Jimmy Smith-style jazz figures, and Booker T.-influenced R&B workouts into one solid package" is the way Mark Deming described the album.
Williams still plays shows in the USA, and toured Europe in 2001 (with Dutch band Green Hornet as backing band), 2005 and 2006 (with the Marshall Brothers). From August to November 2006, he had a short European tour, ending in Switzerland. Then in early 2008 a European tour with The Flash Express.
In 2007, Andre finished recording his latest album with the New Orleans based band, Morning 40 Federation. The album, titled Can You Deal With It, was released by Bloodshot Records in 2008 and is credited to Andre Williams & the New Orleans Hellhounds (the pseudonymous Morning 40 Federation).
In 2010 Williams contributed a cover version of "The Way You Dog Me Around" for the compilation LP Daddy Rockin Strong: A Tribute to Nolan Strong & The Diablos. The album is a tribute to the late Nolan Strong, a Fortune Records sensation during the 1950s and early 1960s.
Williams has also been known to go by the alias "Rudibaker" or "Rutabaga", with which he puts on a different personality and speaks in a gravely voice.
The 2007 documentary "Agile Mobile Hostile: A Year with Andre Williams" tells of Williams' early career at Fortune Records, his hard life on the streets of Chicago in the 1980s, drug and alcohol abuse, his return to the stage and recording studio in 1995, and his current life and musical career - and the struggles that come with it. (wikipedia)