Larry Williams

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Larry Williams is best known as being the bassist/co-songwriter/co-producer of '80s Chicago soul/funk/quiet storm group Omni. Williams also laid down the sly bass line on Wes Phillips' dance classic "I'm…
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Larry Williams is best known as being the bassist/co-songwriter/co-producer of '80s Chicago soul/funk/quiet storm group Omni. Williams also laid down the sly bass line on Wes Phillips' dance classic "I'm a Sucker for a Pretty Face" and can be heard on former Impressions member Leroy Hutson's classic, "In the Mood." He co-wrote Dee Dee Sharp Gamble's perennial dance favorite "Breaking and Entering" from her 1980 PIR album, Dee Dee, recently reissued on CD by Westside/VCI. Williams' musical roots run deep and wide throughout his family tree, so it was only natural that he would pick up an instrument. He began taking music lessons at an early age and could read sheet music by the time he was in fourth grade. Starting out on guitar, Williams switched to bass. Living on the west side of Chicago, Williams hoped to merge his blues/R&B influences with the more jazzier/music theory-derived influences of the south side musicians. His hopes became reality during the next few years. In 1969, while still in high school, he started doing recording sessions for Chess, backing such artists as Cash McCall. Williams also played in bands like the Sons of Slum, the live concert backing band for the Emotions. After high school, he became a jobbing musician, going on the road to back various blues musicians including Cicero Blake, Bobby Rush ("Chicken Heads"), soul singer Barbara Acklin ("Love Makes a Woman"), and duo Symtec & Wylie ("Over the Hump"). When not out on the road, Williams would play with bands around the city at various clubs like the High Chapperal and the Green Bunny. As a member of Vernell & the Intruders, he backed Johnny Taylor and others on shows promoted by local promoter/WVON DJ Pervis Spann. Invited by hornman William Bettis, Williams joined hot local band Hundred Dollar Bill, backing their lead singer, a pre-"Casanova" Ruby Andrews. The band traveled with Garland Green ("Jealous Kind of Fella," "Plain and Simple Girl"), Tyrone Davis, Otis Clay ("Trying to Live My Life Without You"), and also operated as the house band for the Queen Bee Club, whose clientele included the Rolling Stones and Little Howlin' Wolf. While in Hundred Dollar Bill, Williams met keyboardist Lawrence Hanks. In 1975, Williams' cousin, guitarist Terry Richmond, recommended him to a group called the Thunder Funk Symphony. The lineup included future Earth, Wind & Fire hornmen Michael Davis and Michael Harris, guitarist Byron Gregory (Tyrone Davis), and drummer Kenny Elliot (Lou Rawls). Signing to Brunswick Records, the group released a Sonny Sanders-produced single that tried to capitalize on the "Hustle" dance craze. Meanwhile, Hanks joined Jerry Butler's Songwriting Workshop, financed by music publisher Chappell Music. He began writing songs with Butler's administrator Rodney G. Massey. Later, Hanks told Williams about the workshop and he joined. Williams began collaborating with singer Keithen Carter. After writing seven songs in two weeks, Carter soon told Williams that the songs had been placed with various artists (the songs were scheduled to be included on record releases by various artists). Williams began working with Curtis Mayfield's Curtom Records after they moved from their south side location to Lincoln Avenue on the north side, making music charts (transcriptions) and playing on sessions for Leroy Hutson ("In the Mood") and Ava Cherry, among others. In 1976, Williams and some partners opened C-Note Recording and Rehearsal Studios in downtown Chicago. Some of the clients who used the facility were Phillip Bailey and Larry Dunn of Earth, Wind & Fire, Deniece Williams, the Emotions, and El Coco ("Locomotion"). Williams became interested in audio engineering and started to learn all he could about the field. In 1979, Williams wrote and produced a single on Ramsey Lewis (bassman, Cleveland Eaton), "Get Off on Yourself" for Ovation Records. Williams and Carter ended up writing and co-producing the bulk of local vocal group Heaven and Earth's Fantasy album (Mercury, 1980), including the first single, "I Feel a Groove Under My Feet." A Massey/Hanks song, "Guess Who's Back in Town," from the group's major-label debut album, Heaven & Earth (Mercury, 1976), went to number 42 R&B in March 1976. Massey and Hanks' tunes were covered by the Temptations and Melba Moore, and one of their songs was the flip side of Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'." Frustrated with the low amount of covers that their songs were getting, Massey began putting together a record label. Hanks, now Jerry Butler's concert arranger, asked him if they could use the name of his then-dormant Fountain label to launch their new group. Williams joined lead vocalist Massey and keyboardist Hanks, and Omni was born. The first single, "Don't Be Selfish," a slow percolating ballad, was released in the summer of 1980. The ethereally "smoove" ballad, Massey donning the name "Yendor N. Yassam," softly emoted about his travails of finding real love. The track featured a stirring string arrangement by Paul David Wilson. The flip side was the up-tempo, horn-laden "Keys to the City," which became popular in British dance clubs. After doing a lot of leg work, forcing themselves to overcome their shyness about doing concerts and enlisting sympathetic listeners, the group slowly began to get airplay on local stations. Their debut album, Omni Says It All was released later that year. The next single, "You Make It Happen" got strong radio airplay in Chicago and other regions of the country. Leroy Hutson covered the tune on his Paradise album (Elektra, 1982). Other tracks that garnered airplay were the chunk-funky "Strong on You" (a phrase Massey heard Barry White use during a Los Angeles radio interview) and the after-midnight lullaby "Rock Me Gently (Make Me Dream/Heavy Love)" with lead vocals by Connie Draper. The group began marketing itself with posters, iron-on decals, and logoed jackets."Yendor" would call up local morning drive-time radio shows and talk on-air with the DJs, expounding on universal truths and spacy concepts. The label had thoughts of becoming a "little Motown" and began expanding its artist roster, signing singers Gwen Terrell, former Heaven & Earth lead singer Dean Williams, and Connie Draper. Their next album, All for the One (Fountain, 1981) spawned the dance club classic "Out of My Hands (Love's Taken Over)" that featured a scorching vocal by Draper. The 12" version was big in dance clubs in Chicago, New York, and other markets. Other tracks that made radio and club play lists were the ballads "Leave It Up to Me," "Just How Bad," the funky and inspirational "Warriors," and the title track. A spiritual flavor permeated Omni's music from the start, so it wasn't out of place to include the too-too short "Leave It to the Lord" on All for the One. Singer Dee Dee Sharp Gamble ("Mashed Potato Time," "I'm Not in Love," "I Love You Anyway") recorded a Hanks/Massey/Williams song, "Breaking and Entering," for her Dee Dee album (Philadelphia International, December 1980). The song was a big dance club hit. Seeing how the mainstream record business was becoming less independent-label friendly, the group sought out a major-label deal. The major-label debut was the single "Body Groove" (Amherst/Mercury). The 12" remains high on the dance music collectors' list. An album, Omni, was released on Mercury Records around February 1984. The slow, sexy single "Girl Let Me Run It" received airplay in their hometown and other markets around the country. After the deal elapsed and the group broke up, Williams took a nine-to-five job and worked as a part-time engineer at Paul Serrano's PS Recording Studios. Also that year, Williams collaborated with former Fountain Records promoter Wes Phillips on "I'm a Sucker for a Pretty Face," a huge dance hit for Canada's Quality Records (Gino Soccio, Carol Hall, early Was Not Was productions with Don Was). In the mid- and late '80s, Williams was at ground zero of the house music explosion working with Jesse Saunders, Vince Lawrence, and Larry Sherman (Shawn Christopher, Darnell Rush). He produced Christopher's Welcome Home, an early house record. He also took on an increasing number of engineering jobs. In 1997, Williams started his own engineering firm, Pro Audio Sound Services, specializing in sound installation and recording studio construction.