BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 


Saxophonist Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams was born in Kentucky in 1915, moving to Detroit as a teen where he began playing professionally while still in high school. After recording briefly with King Porter’s band he was offered his own contract with Savoy Records in 1947 and proceeded to make history… more than once.

Though the saxophone was a notable part of jazz it was another field that Williams headed into right away, cutting the first rock instrumentals that fall, scoring a regional hit with his debut, then notching the first national hit with its follow-up. That opened up the gates through which a parade of sax players stepped out from the shadows of playing anonymously behind others and enabled them to become stars in their own right in rock ‘n’ roll by featuring often crude raunchy solos highlighted by their guttural honks and ear-piercing squeals, all designed to get listeners on their feet and grinding away without inhibition.

Though usually more restrained than many of his competitors as this style took hold Williams reaped the rewards with a string of hits, capped by the biggest instrumental #1 R&B hit in history, “The Hucklebuck”, which gained him the nickname for which he’d forever be known.

Unlike others who primarily played tenor, Williams used mostly a baritone and occasionally alto sax, giving his records a slightly different feel, though he frequently paired with tenor Wild Bill Moore in his early days while he played on Moore’s featured releases as well.

When the sax instrumental hit-making potential started to recede in the 50’s Williams found steady work by leading the bands enlisted to back multi-artist rock ‘n’ roll package tours. In fact his was the only act that actually got to play at the legendary Moondog Coronation Ball in Cleveland in March 1952, the show hosted by radio dee-jay Alan Freed which ended in a riot and spread the reputation of rock as a dangerous music across the land.

Williams settled in at the Apollo Theater by mid-decade, leading the house band and could still be found chipping in on various sessions into the 60’s before he retired from playing and opened a booking agency. Williams died in 2002 at 87 years old, one of the few men left into the 21st Century who was both a participant and first-hand witness rock’s evolution from the very beginning.
 
 

PAUL “HUCKLEBUCK” WILLIAMS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):
 
HASTINGS STREET BOUNCE
(Savoy 659; October, 1947)
The first rock instrumental release adds a much needed variation to rock ‘n’ roll’s emerging formula, notable for the freewheeling sense of adventure Williams and crew bring to the table with their inspired flights of fancy. (5)

WAY LATE
(Savoy 659; October, 1947)
Vocal offering issued under Williams’ name as he merely plays backup on this cracked morality tale of a loose woman with no remorse. (4)

THIRTY-FIVE THIRTY
(Savoy 661; December, 1947)
The first rock instrumental hit opens the floodgates for more of the same. Williams finds a groove and settles comfortably into the pocket. (5)

COME WITH ME BABY
(Savoy 661; December, 1948)
Another B-side featuring Alex Thomas on vocals which relegates Williams to a backing role, but it’s one he’s perfectly suited for and he delivers some of his most relaxed, whimsical playing on a surprisingly effective offering. (6)

SWINGIN’ FOR PAPPY
(Savoy 662; January, 1948)
As sideman… for Wild Bill Moore.

BUBBLES
(Savoy 662; January, 1948)
As sideman… for Wild Bill Moore.

BOUNCING WITH BENSON
(Savoy 664; February, 1948)
Routine riffs, insistent but not frantic, melodic but not memorable, a pleasant groove that doesn’t cut too deep. (3)

BOOGIE RIDE
(Savoy 664; February, 1948)
Still trying to find the precise formula for a rock instrumental here, they get a lot of the basics down but it’s the periodic misfires in the arrangement you’ll remember most. (4)

THE TWISTER
(Savoy 665; April, 1948)
A galvanizing arrangement that’s buzzing with excitement, the musicians cut loose and deliver a shot of adrenaline to the listener over both sides of the record… Williams has never sounded more inspired. (8)

WE’RE GONNA ROCK
(Savoy 666; July, 1948)
As sideman… for Wild Bill Moore.

WAXIE MAXIE
(Savoy 670; August, 1948)
Not too ambitious but an intoxicating riff with a captivating ending, though lacking any sense of tension or anticipation. A good pastiche of the style rather than a leading exponent of it. (6)

SPIDER SENT ME
(Savoy 669; August, 1948)
Williams splits the difference between churning groove and honking workout, as a result it doesn’t fully connect in either way, though the end result is reasonably satisfying.(5)

WALKIN’ AROUND
(Savoy 680; December, 1948)
A vibrant opening but an underwhelming track veering towards pop sensibilities, but audiences of that time felt different and made this his fourth hit of the past year. (3)

THE HUCKLEBUCK
(Savoy 683; January, 1949)
The biggest rock hit of the 1940’s and biggest instrumental hit ever, Williams takes a song with jazz roots and eases it into a sultry rock groove, alluring and mildly suggestive, yet forever overshadowed by its widespread impact. (7)

HOPPIN’ JOHN
(Savoy 683; January, 1949)
Over a year old when dragged out of mothballs for a B-side the backing musicians are long out of date and it’s lacking a more coherent melodic framework, but Williams and Wild Bill Moore are tightly locked in with each other even as they go nowhere. (4)

SOUTH PARKWAY HOP
(Savoy 690; March, 1949)
As sideman… behind Wild Bill Moore.

HOUSE ROCKER
(Savoy 702; June, 1949)
With his momentum and name recognition at an all-time high, a great title and the stage at Savoy to himself thanks to multiple artist defections, Williams is featured too little and the song itself is too pedestrian to fully connect. (4)

HE KNOWS HOW TO HUCKLEBUCK
(Savoy 702; June, 1949)
A welcome surprise from Williams who not only heads back to the alley on this but brings along vocalist Joan Shaw to deliver the salacious details of a different kind of dance than the title refers to on a grimy record fit for the roadhouse. (7)

POP-CORN
(Savoy 711; August, 1949)
The breezy nonchalance that was Williams’ stock-in-trade is put to good effect here, giving him his final national hit with a wistful sounding record that was a typically classy offering from the father of the entire rock saxophone movement. (7)

FREE DICE
(Savoy 711; August, 1949)
A decent idea that is done in by the other horns dragging Williams down with them in a somewhat outdated approach, though he himself contributes solid work on both baritone and alto in his solos. (4)