From "Tower of Power" to Now Legendary Soul Singer, " Lenny Williams" is Still Making Great Music!

Updated: May 5

Today, many celebrities use their elite status to set themselves above everyone else. Those that behave that way, walk around with swollen heads and a rude demeaners. This type of attitude makes interviewing these types of celebrities uncomfortable and intolerable. However, this was not the case with my interview with the legendary soul singer, " Lenny Williams." Lenny was extremely pleasant , wise, humble and gracious. While interviewing him, he made me feel like I was talking to a family member that I've known all my life. He absolutely could have played the , "celebrity big headed card" if he wanted to, but he didn't. Lenny is an influential rhythm and blues (R&B) artist who I in the mid-1970s, was the lead singer of the funk band ,"Tower of Power" . After leaving the band , he pursued a solo career in which he recorded many amazing hits! One of my personal favorites is, "Cause I love you".

So, we had a chance to chat it up. Here's what he shared with me.

Okay, first and foremost, I am a huge fan of your music and I love your voice! In my opinion, you're a legend! I feel so honored and blessed to have this opportunity to interview you. So, thank you again! My pleasure to be here.

Thank you. Okay, so tell me a little bit about your yourself. Where you grew up, and how you got started in music?

Sure, I love to. Well, I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. I left there when I was quite young. I think I was around about 13 or 14 months old. That's when we came to California. I settled in Oakland, California, and we joined a Baptist Church. My mom immediately put me in a little choir.

I remember saying "Easter" and "Christmas" speeches. They had speeches for just about anything. They would make up a day to have your speech. So, I was always in front of audiences. As I got older, I think around about the fourth grade, I started playing trumpet and learning how to read music.

So, music became an important part of my life. My mom loved country and pop music, but my dad liked listening to Christian music. He didn't really like us to listen to anything other than that, but whenever he'd leave the house, we would look out to see if he turned the corner and once he did, we would turn the radio on and listen to the music we liked. That's how I fell in love with music.

I was fortunate as a teenager to go to a church that had a lot of aspiring musicians. Walter Hawkins, Edwin Hawkins, Tremaine Hawkins, The Steward Family, which was, "Sly and the Family Stone”, and Odia Coates, who sang " Having my Baby”. We used to fellowship with a church in Los Angeles, where Andre Crouch, Billy Preston, Gloria Jones, and Andre Crouch's, Sandra crouch. So, music is always kind of been a part of my life. But, my introduction to music came from church.

Over a period of time, I watched a lot of my friends leave the church and go out and start doing secular music and then I kind of followed them. That’s how the story began.

Awesome! So, at what point did you get signed to a recording contract? Also, did you ever participate in localized gigging before you actually got signed? When I was around 18, while attending college, a friend of mine suggested that I go down to this club called, " The Showcase Lounge" in Oakland, California. There was a talent show that he thought that I should participate in. He liked the fact that I could sing. At that time, I was just getting out of the church and feeling my way around so, I only knew about two songs, "I was made the love her" by "Stevie Wonder" and "Sam Cooks", "Change is Gonna Come".

So, I would go down there on Thursday nights and win every time. So, one particular night, a guy walked up to me and asked me. " If I'd like to make a record". His name was "Ray Shanklin". He worked as an "A&R" guy for "Fantasy". So, he took me over to, Fantasy Records “in San Francisco. Over there, met a young guy by the name of "John Fogerty”. John was working in the stock room, so I would learn from him about how to write songs and things like that. (John Cameron Fogerty) is an American musician, singer, and songwriter. Together with Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and his brother Tom Fogerty, he founded the band Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), for which he was the lead singer, lead guitarist, and principal songwriter.) Later, I met a guy named, "Huey Lewis," who had a band called “Clover," and I learned a little bit more about songwriting from him. I made a couple of records that received a little bit of notoriety around my home, (the San Francisco Bay Area), but didn’t reach too much outside of that.

So, I just kind of hung around with bands and things of that nature and eventually started writing for a little band called, "Tower Power" so, I started writing for them. And then eventually became a lead singer of that band. And that's how I got my start.

Wow, that's amazing! So, tell me about your song, "Because I love you". That's actually one of my favorite songs by you! Did you write that song? Tell me a little bit about the history behind that song? Yes, I wrote that song with a good friend of mine by the name of, "Michael Bennett". The way I met Michael is that I bought a house and I needed to do some work on it, so I hired this man named Mr. Bennett. So, whenever he would work on my house, he always tells me that he had a son that did music, and that his son could write and play guitar. He told me that he also played keyboard and could also sing and dance. He basically said, he could do it all!

So, I'm thinking, wow, he's a proud dad, but he’s probably exaggerating a little bit. So, after him constantly telling me about his son and wishing that I would meet him, I finally agreed. I met his son, and his son was basically everything that he said he was.

His son and I started writing together. I got him into the practice of writing every day, so we wrote together every day. He told me that in order for him to write a great song, he has to be inspired.

I told him, these guys go to work, punch in at nine o'clock, and stay there all day in a room writing songs. I thought to myself, "Barry Gordy" wouldn't do that. So, I said, "you have to do something that inspires you in order to get yourself a paycheck at the end of the week, you know"?

So, I bought into that theory. He came by one day for our regular writing sessions, and I told him that "I didn't really feel like it." He was like, why? I told him that, "me and my girl got into it". He said, well, if you were working for Barry Gordon, what would you tell him? Would you tell him that you didn’t feel like writing today? I said, No, I probably wouldn't. He said "well, let’s write". So, that’s how "Because I love you" came about.

Wow! I just I absolutely love that song! Thanks for sharing that story. So, tell me what was one of your most memorable moments? I'm sure there were many. But what would you say is your most memorable? There's so many! But I would have to say, ne my most memorable times was getting a phone call that Aretha Franklin. She wanted me to come to Detroit and to sing at her party. I was told that it was going to be at a theater with 100 special invited guest and that she had rented the theater in which she wanted me to perform.

So, when I arrived in Detroit, they sent a limo to pick me up and take me to the hotel. I left to go out to get something to eat, and when I came back, there was flowers all over my room. Then the phone rang, and it was "Aretha franklin"! She asked me did I like the flowers and is everything okay? She also asked me if I had anyone that wanted to come to the show? I couldn't even talk! I just lost my voice and everything! Finally, I was able to come to myself and talk to her. I called my wife and told her that Aretha Franklin bought me flowers and everything! My wife said nice, did you thank her?

So, that was one of the highlights of my career. We actually became good friends. Sometimes people who wanted to get in touch with Aretha Franklin in order to get her to come to California or their parties, would ask me to get in touch with her. She also requested that I go on the road with her and everything! So that association with her is something that's special to me.

That's an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing that with me! Oh, my gosh, that's awesome! Being a recording artist in this industry, what would you say has been the most challenging? Coming up with hit songs. You have so many talented people writing and doing music! It’s really a phenomenon that a person could have a hit record. Just think about how many songs have been written every day, and your little song is the one that makes it makes it through. So, the challenge is to find something that you create or somebody that you know created that hits a chord with a million people that would go out and purchase it. So, that to me is the most challenging.

How is everything different in the music industry from when you began? Well, I started in the music industry in the 60s. At that time, the contracts for unknown artists with no connections were pretty rough. You didn't make a lot of money. After, joining "Tower Power" and having hit records, I started doing my own thing. That's when my contracts got better.

Over time, my contracts became more lucrative because I was able to have more negotiating power and leverage based off of the record sells and the notoriety that I gained. Now, it's almost back to where I started. Today, with streaming and illegal downloading, artists have to be clever in order to make money in the music business. I was reading an article the other day that said that “music is almost like a loss leader". You might wake up and see that Macy's has a deal where you can get six pair of socks for $1.50, and everybody's runs to Macy's to take advantage of that deal! Their main objective is to get you in there in hopes that you'll also buy a new coat, dress, suit, wardrobe or even a new piece of furniture. So, they were saying that now, "these artists put out songs in hopes that you will gravitate to them". Now, once you do, they will try to sell you shirts or a certain kind of wig they wear. Some even try to sell you their own brand of CBD oil, or whatever.

They talked about how the songs really don't make a lot of money. That's why, they're hopeful that you’ll be able to come to their show. This way they can make money with their live performances. One of the problems now is that they can't even do live performances because of the COVID situation. So, it's really kind of interesting. Another thing is, when I got started in music, you'd go to a record company, get signed, go to a studio and make a record. But now, you can use your telephone to make a pretty good sounding record. I was reading an article that is something like 60,000 songs gets uploaded every day. The traffic is, tremendous! When I was coming up, I don't know how many artists put out a record a week. It might have been around 50/100 or something like that. Now, you're talking, 50 to 60,000 people uploading songs to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and so on every day! The traffic is heavy, and the competition is tremendous! In a way, it's easier to make music and get it out there but, on the other hand, you've got so many people that you're competing against. The music business isn't for somebody who's timid. You really have to get out of there and go for everything you know in order to have a successful record.

Who were some of your musical influences? I love Sam Cooke. I thought that he was darn near perfect. He had it all! He was good looking, had great songs and a great businessman! I guess he learned that from his dad being a pastor of a church. He owned his own record label and publishing company. So, I definitely thought he was somebody that I wanted to emulate. I listened to the radio a lot when I was growing up and found that the radio is a great teacher. You turn it on and get the opportunity to absorb various styles of music. As you absorb radio and begin practicing different styles, eventually you'll come up with something that's your own. So, I would say that radio and Sam Cooke were my biggest influences.

Awesome! If you had an opportunity to work with a particular artists or producer, who would it be?

David Foster. He's a great producer! I'd also love to work with Kanye West. I think he's very talented. If it were a current artist, I would say, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Taylor is such a great songwriter. I think that if she wanted to write R&B, she'd be so successful. I think she might even surprise herself. I think that she would be an excellent person to work with. They’re so many great artists out there now.

What advice would you give up and coming artist about staying grounded in this industry? Remember your home training and have a good personality. Be nice to people. It's very important because let's just say, "you walk into a radio station wanting to talk to the program director, or one of the disc jockeys, and you treat the receptionist a little snotty. Well, three years later when you go back, the receptionist is now the program director. So, it just always nice to be nice, because you just never know when somebody can do something to help you.

Also, I think that it's good to get books about the industry that you're in. Also, find yourself a lawyer or manager. I think that if you have those things in place, along with staying away from substance abuse, that’s a wise thing to do.

Substance abuse can deteriorate your talent, and it can cause you to embarrass yourself especially if you’re intoxicated. For me, I just wanted an opportunity. So, I think that those are the main things that I would say is the key to staying grounded in this business along with performing and perfecting your craft.

What would you say was probably one of your most embarrassing moments, while performing, that you wouldn't be too embarrassed to share with our readers?

Once at a performance, the person introduced me and said, " and now, here's Lenny Williams!" I went out the wrong door! Instead of walking out on stage, I found myself out in the in the audience looking up at the stage. Then, instead of going all the way back around, I tried to climb up the front of the stage to get on the stage. That was kind of kind of embarrassing. So that was kind of embarrassing. turned left when I should have turned right.

That's funny! So tell me, how do you prepare artistically for a performance?

I usually do my vocal exercises, warm up voice and drink a lot of water. I also like to, meditate, say a little prayer and, and then go for it.

What is it that inspires you to write? What type of songs do you felt that you're drawn to? The first thing is that I have to like it. It has to be something that makes me move or has a great melody and words. I believe that if it's something I like, then I think that other people would like it too. I kind of look at it as though I was going to have a dinner at my house, and I was a chef. I would serve them something that I think that they would like. If I like the taste of something, I think that maybe my guests would like that also. It’s the same thing with music. If it's something that I like, then I think that most people would like it. So, it must pass the Lenny Williams like test.

Awesome! Tell me, who have you worked with in the past? And, and what do you have cooking for the future? I've worked with so many different people. In terms of doing shows, I’ve worked with, "The Jacksons, Usher, Aretha Franklin, Earth Wind & Fire, to Stevie Wonder and many others. The list is long. On the music production side, I've been working with Levi Caesar who played guitar and bass in "Prince's, "New Power Generation Band". They were touring for about 12 years. I’ve also been working with, Derek Allen. He's the producer that just produced a new record on" Kem". So, I’ve been working with him, writing songs and doing production. So, I'm excited about the music that we're doing. I did a song with Levi called "Fine “and "Southern girl". Those records are out now on digital all the platforms. So, I'm just excited about the future and the possibilities.

Will you be performing live when everything reopens? Yeah, most definitely. Once we get the green light, COVID is long gone and buried with a tombstone over it, then I'll get back out there. I don't want to be premature, run out there and get sick. I don't want to cause anyone else to get sick either. But yes, most definitely! When that time comes, I'll be ready to shine up the shoes, get out there, and do my thing.

All right! Well, when you come out this way, I want a ticket! Definitely

One last thing, what would you like to say if it were your last words on earth?

I live my life as open book.

All photos are courtesy of Lenny Williams

Lenny Williams Website: