SHERMAN WILLIAMS (By Dave Penny)
The history of jump and R&B, like any other music, is littered with the names of legendary local heroes who managed to eke out a living in their immediate neighbourhoods without making much (or any) impact on the national music scene. Sadly, many went unrecorded and their legacy is reduced to a handful of press cuttings and faded photographs, but some were able to record for their local independent labels - either with a private "custom" or "vanity" pressing or in a limited commercial run - and are thus immortalised for latter day collectors. Alto saxophonist Sherman Williams was almost relegated to the former category, having been a professional musician in the Nashville area for more than a decade before he started recording. He formed his own small jump and swing band around October 1940 but went unrecorded until July 1947 when he began recording for Bullet Records in Nashville, leading a band that consisted of Charles Gillum (trumpet), Bill Jones (tenor sax), Edward "Skippy" Brooks (piano), James Brown (bass) and Alvin Woods (drums), the Williams band drew its inspiration from the era's little-big jump combos like Louis Jordan's Tympany Five, Jack McVea's Door Openers, and Roy Milton's Solid Senders. Milton and his band, in particular, held a close association with Williams; around the time that Williams recorded probably his first recordings in Nashville in 1947, his band also recorded for the Miltone-related Foto Records in Los Angeles (in fact, it has been reported that Williams may have run the Foto, Ace and Miltone labels instead of Milton, who was just the record company's public face).
In 1948, Williams recorded for Excelsior and Gold Star, but shortly after his female vocalist Iona Wade left to join ex-Milton tenor saxophonist Bill Gaither's new group (recording for the fledgling MGM Records). It is believed that Milton, an exclusive Specialty recording artist, pulled some strings to get Williams some lucrative session work with Art Rupe's company, and by early 1949, Sherman was doing session work for Art Rupe's Specialty label with pianist Earl Jackson's band. Williams recorded a one-off for Los Angeles based Plymouth Records around June 1949 and in late 1949/early 1950 Sherman and his band were in Houston recording behind Skippy Brooks for his sole Peacock release, which included a recut of his signature tune, Skippy's Blues (coincidentally, ex-Williams vocalist Iona Wade also recorded for Peacock around this time with Jay McShann's band). The Williams' band lost their chief asset in early 1950 when Skippy Brooks left to return to Nashville, while trumpeter Charles Gillum quit around the same time to join Roy Milton's Solid Senders, by this time the new Williams band was resident at Central Avenue's Barrel House night club, enjoying rave reviews and appreciative crowds.
In November 1951 Sherman Williams formed his own record label, Unique Records, in South Central Avenue, which debuted with his band's penultimate release, The Bounce (parts 1 & 2), featuring an early appearance by West Coast vocal group The (Hollywood) Four Flames. Within a few months, Sherman had sold his label to Art Rupe, who had his eye on the talented vocal group, and The Bounce was reissued on Rupe's short-lived Fidelity label, along with another Unique release by The Flames.
Sherman Williams' final known release was issued on Max Freitag's L.A. based Flip label in 1956*, however around this time he returned to his old stomping grounds and was last reported in the late 1950s, still working in small Nashville night clubs with a band that included Tot Randolph, Blind Jimmy Osborne and Bobby Hebb. Although none of his releases had the slightest whiff of chart success, the Williams recorded legacy is a solid body of jump-blues and R&B. Iona Wade provided some of the highlights; she is known to have worked with James Moody's modern jazz band in the mid 1950s before drifting out of the public eye. The band's other star was Skippy Brooks, who later became a mainstay of the house band for Excello Records and made many recordings as the pianist with drummer Kid King's Combo.
* There was a release in 1960 on the New York City based Cee-Jay label, but this was probably a different Sherman Williams.
Recommended listening:- Classics 5076 - Apart from the 1956 release on Flip, this CD releases all the issued sides by Sherman Williams' band, including the Peacock coupling issued under Skippy Brooks' name.
Stompin' 23 - Includes one side - "Looking For My Baby" - from Williams' 1956 Flip release.
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