Lenny Williams Still Loves You by Michael A. Gonzales [INTERVIEW]

As an avid viewer of the usually wonderful series Unsung, sometimes I scratch my head over their choices. On what planet are George Clinton and Isaac Hayes considered unsung? I’ve no idea, but Oakland-bred soul man Lenny Williams surely satisfies the criteria. While the man has spent most of his life writing and singing popular music with the influential funk band Tower of Power (“What is Hip,” “Soul With a Capital S”) as well as his own solo hits “Choosing You” and classic midnight baby making anthem “’Cause I Love You,” many folks still have a hard time recognizing the face behind that richly beautiful voice.

Unlike many recording artists of any generation, Williams, who recently released a new single called “Hooked on Love,” wasn’t all about the glitter and fame as much as he was about the work. “Even when I started out, I already had two sons, so I wasn’t one of those people popping pills or doing heroin,” Williams says from his Bay Area home via telephone. “I wasn’t no angel, but I only tested the waters, I didn’t dive in completely. Maybe it was my home training or being raised in church, but I stayed away from much of that scene.”

Williams’ family relocated to Oakland from Little Rock, Arkansas when he was only a baby. “I lived on 7th Street, which was the center of Black life in Oakland,” Williams explains. “The clubs, the church and the radio station was only a few steps from my house.” Having grown-up singing gospel in church, he was also inspired by the secular soul of Lloyd Price, Clyde McFadden and Sam Cooke. “I learned from those people, singing their songs. The radio was the best right there and it was free; I used to listen to everything.”

Unlike his old church buddies Sly Stone and Billy Preston, Williams didn’t get his big break until he was almost ready to give up. “I was working a job at the Ford Motor Company, because I needed something secure with a steady check,” he says. “But, that factory work was back breaking.” Having gotten in good with the then-small jazz label Fantasy Records, he recorded the track “Feelin’ Blue” with an unknown writer/producer named John Fogerty, who’d go on to fame as the leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

“John and I both worked at Fantasy with (owner) Saul Zaentz and were friends before Creedence took off,” Williams explains. Although “Feelin’ Blue” was a good song, it didn’t do much in terms of the charts and Williams stuck with his day job. Creedence would go on to become one of the biggest groups of the era while he was still punching the clock at the Ford plant. However, a chance meeting with bassist (genius) Larry Graham, whose nimble fingers plucked for Sly & the Family Stone, changed Williams’ life in a way he’d anticipated for years.

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