CHARLES “HUNGRY” WILLIAMS
Born 12 February 1935, New Orleans
The importance of Hungry Williams as a drummer can hardly be overstated. If Earl Palmer gave New Orleans R&B the backbeat, then Hungry added Latin rhythms and funk. Unlike Palmer, who was a schooled musician, Williams couldn’t read music, but he was a natural talent. According to Palmer, Williams was given the nickname “Hungry” because he was a homosexual. “He was always trying to scarf some dude."
Biographical details are scarce ; I couldn’t find anything about his early youth. In the early fifties he joined Paul Gayten’s band as as drummer. His career as a regular session drummer at Cosimo Matassa’s studio (the only recording studio in New Orleans in the 1950s) started in 1953. Around 1954 he left Gayten’s ensemble and became the drummer in the house band at Club Tijuana in New Orleans. But he stayed in contact with Paul Gayten, who produced a session by Williams as a singer for the Chess label in December 1955. This resulted in the spectacular single “So Glad She’s Mine”/“Mary Don’t You Weep, Mary Don’t You Moan” (Checker 831). A second vocal Checker single would be released in July 1957, “Darling”/“So Worried” (866). Three other numbers by Williams, probably also recorded in 1957, emerged in 1984 on a British Chess LP : “Rhythmatic Rhythm”, “I Cried All the Way Home” and “What Can I Do”.
Williams came really into prominence after Earl Palmer moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles in February 1957. From then until the early 1960s “Hungry” was the most in-demand drummer in town. However, for Fats Domino’s sessions, Fats and his producer, Dave Bartholomew, seemed to prefer Cornelius Coleman, the drummer in Domino’s road band. As a result, Williams can be heard on only a few Domino recordings (“When My Dreamboat Comes Home”, “Ida Jane” and “ Whole Lotta Loving” among them). A small selection of other records on which he can be heard :
Jerry Byrne, Lights Out
In the early 1960s Williams lost his position as the premier drummer in New Orleans to John Boudreaux and dropped out of the recording scene by the time of the British Invasion. His personal life seems to have been a bit of a mess. Earl Palmer said an interview : “He was just like a derelict, man. All of us used to say ‘Man. clean yourself up, come on. Go get something to eat and straighten yourself up’. He was always messed up at that time, man. It’s amazing he lived this long.” It must be said though that Earl Palmer had great respect for Williams as a drummer. In his autobiography, “Backbeat”, Palmer writes : “A guy we called Hungry, Charlie Williams, was a mother on drums, a guy who never knew how good he was.” Many other New Orleans musicians speak about Hungry with the greatest respect. He could do things on the drums that nobody else could. Williams told Tad Jones in a 1983 interview : “I had calypso going and funk at the same time. I started the ‘double clutching’ with my bass drum with my foot. Didn’t no other drummer do that. It was like a double beat on the bass drum that makes it funky… Yeah, it’s all on the snare and the bass drum. No cymbals, because I couldn’t get funky enough if I mess with the cymbals”.
In 1978 Williams re-emerged on the Allen Toussaint-produced album “New Orleans Heat” by Albert King. This appears to have been his last appearance in the recording studio. When he died in 1986, he had been battling Paget’s disease for several years. Paget’s is a bone marrow affliction, a type of cancer of the bone.
More info : http://www.charliegillett.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=54&t=19996
Acknowledgements : John Broven, Adam Komorowski and the interview with Earl Palmer at https://scottkfish.com/2015/10/21/earl-palmer-on-motown-new-orleans-los-angeles/
The other Chess/Checker recordings are not available on YouTube, alas. “So Glad She’s Mine” (Hungry’s own composition) has been reissued on several CD compilations ; “Darling” and “What Can I Do” have also been included on CD compilations ; the other tracks are not currently available on CD to the best of my knowledge.
Dik, November 2017
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