In the world of legendary tales of missed opportunity, by now most everyone interested in pop music of the last 50 years knows about Big Star. The group that issued a bunch of fantastic albums that should have been massive in the post-Beatles world of the early 1970s. Instead, problems with distribution and poor marketing on the part of the record labels — Ardent and parent company Stax Records — ensured that the records disappeared into obscurity. Thankfully, a relative handful of believers who had heard Big Star’s music along the way kept the torch alive and today Big Star is a beloved touch stone influence on modern day rock and pop music.
One such tale revolves around John Gary Williams, former lead singer for 1960s soul act The Mad Lads. As I own at least one of their albums, when I heard about this new issue of Mr. Williams’ lost 1973 Stax Records album, I asked his publicist to send a copy.
It arrived and I am pleased to be writing this review of his fine self-titled solo record debut, an album most people never got a chance to hear and learn about. Apparently, according to the album’s liner notes, the records — titled John Gary Williams — got only as far as the warehouse before the label went under…
So at least this time the record is getting out to the reviewers and the public in general! There is quite a tale behind what happened to Mr. Williams’ album which is beyond the scope of this review. But rest assured the album’s inner sleeve contains very detailed liner notes explaining the whole saga.
Back to the music, hearing John Gary Williams is like listening to a time capsule from early 1970s pop soul radio. Many tracks on this record would have fit perfectly on the airwaves of the period alongside hits by The Stylistics (“You Are Everything”), Eddie Holman (“Hey There Lonely Girl”), and Al Green (“Lets Stick Together”) and many others.
“How Could I Let You Get Away” could have been right in there (it was a Spinners cover tune, after all). “Open Your Heart and Let Love Come In” might be an alternate universe Delfonics hit. “Honey” is a sweet soul take on the Bobby Goldsboro hit from 1968.
The album’s closing track, “The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy,” is incredibly relevant to these turbulent 21st Century times we are living through. It sounds like what might happen if Hi Records’ Willie Mitchell produced Smokey Robinson singing a song written by Marvin Gaye and Al Green. The album’s opening track, “I See Hope,” is equally inspiring.
And… so it goes for John Gary Williams’ debut solo record. This new edition isn’t really a reissue so much as it is restoring a lost gem from the period to its rightful place alongside the music from that era.
Again, most of us never got a chance to hear this excellent music back in the day, so hopefully more people will snap up this new edition. What with a new generation of fans of so-called “Northern Soul” music … as well as fans supporting the late career renaissances of artists like Bettye LaVette and Charles Bradley… as well as the emergence of younger soul artists like Leon Bridges… public interest in original 60s and 70s soul sounds hasn’t been this strong in a long time.
Jerry Garcia once sang in his song Run For The Roses : “all good things in all good time…” And this time we’re getting some of the good thing on a lovely quiet 180-gram black vinyl records housed in a thick, cardboard cover and sporting period-accurate labels.
This is the real deal, kids!
The liner notes indicate that Mr. Williams is recording anew – and along the way I learned he has a new single out available from his website which you can find by clicking here. And, he is possibly reforming The Mad Lads! I sincerely hope so and that they tour so we get to hear more of this excellent music come alive.
Welcome back, John Gary Williams. It’s time for your long overdue spotlight.