Chapter 8 BP: … and the Vandellas, backin’ ‘em up, and that was a lot of fun. And The Delves, the Delves were great: “Stay in my Corner”, the little midget guy, the Chinese who used to sing that falsetto; that was great shit. That was really, so I did that for about 2 to 3 years. And those days are gone. You could go see those acts for a couple of bucks. You could go see the Supremes for -- I backed up the Supremes at Harvard Stadium. I don't know if they played at the Sugar Shack. But Parliament Funkadelic was in there. The white James Brown, what was his name? Oh, shoot -- this guy had this big bouffant, big blond bouffant like James Brown and Jack ?? was in his band. He's based out of Florida. He's a preacher now: that's an unusual progression. What was that guy's name? [fb note: Buster Poindexter.] Because Jim Agnew who also teaches at the school was in that band. It was like James Brown on steroids, because he would have like twelve horn players doing four mission steps. And this guy was a white guy with this big ridiculous hair. Doing splits and stuff like he was James Brown. But he was good. I mean it was a hell of a show to see. But that was show bands -- on steroids. FB: So was there much of a transition from this to, this would go on as you would get into the jazz bands? BP: That's how you would make a living. There were no jazz gigs for a young guy. FB: No. And this beats GB twenty to one. BP: Oh, hell yeah. But I was doing GB too. I was doing my GB. I never did the real GB like most of my GB was black GB. We used to work at Grove Hall, the food market, it was also the Masonic Temple, it was a supermarket that the Masonic Lodge bought. They had functions there. FB: Weddings? BP: Weddings and just parties and calypso. So I would play a lot of blues. I didn't know any of the songs initially. We played a little of the Top 40, of the black stuff. We didn't do a “tired ribbon around the oak tree”, that kind of shit. We didn't do that; we didn't do “Alley Cat.” FB: That's good. BP: Yeah I did a few of those gigs, but I prefer playing with those bands because the music was more comfortable with me. [FB: Well, it's better.] We just play a blues and a shuffle beat. [00:02:37.14] And people want to be able to hear the Top 40 music, but we had a couple bandleaders... Ehh... okay. Shuffle in Eb. They didn't want to hear something that was really new. Shuffle in C. And there were all these guys a little ??? or a little James Brown. Those guys are always called “little.” They had no relation with these guys, but it was a: “featuring tonight the Little James Brown at the Park Street Lounge.” So we'd go in and we kinda knew a little of James Brown vocabulary a bit, and then we just make up riffs and stuff. [FB: Great.] It was great, man. It really was, that doesn't exist anymore. I don't know if it could exist but I mean all over Roxbury all over Dorchester... hell, I used to play South Boston, I mean in the white clubs. FB: What do you mean, like Blinstrub’s? BP: No, it was more like bars. [FB: Oh, bars, okay.] On the weekends they would have bands all over Boston all working class neighborhoods anywhere. I mean I used to play in a blues band when I was the only black guy in the band. And we used to play in Southie, we used to play in Dorchester. You know just playing “Mustang Sally.” That was the repertoire: “Mustang Sally”, “Knock On Wood”, the R&B catalog of tunes. We all knew that. We all knew those tunes because we backed some of the people at the Sugar Shack, but that's kind of like what we listened to. It was great, man. It was so loose and it was so fun. It just doesn't exist like that anymore. That's too bad. It's really too bad. But that's how I got any kind of an ability to be a musician together. And then little by little I started getting jazz gigs. FB: When did you meet James Williams? BP: I went to a jam session. They used to have jam sessions on Sunday down at the Jazz... FB: Jazz Coalition? BP: No no, right around the street here. FB: Oh, the Emmanuel Church. BP: No the club. It used to be the Inner Circle FB: Sorry: Jazz Workshop. BP: The Jazz Workshop. Freddie Taylor's. So on Sunday they'd have a Sunday matinee and most of the time the band leaders would open up for jam sessions and half the time they would just walk off and they would let people just get up and play. You never played with the guys. I mean Elvin, Elvin would have jam sessions and sit with Elvin. I remember a guy sitting with Charles Mingus. It was pretty out there. FB: That's nice, yeah. BP: But I met James; he sat in with Grover Washington. Grover was still playing a little R&B and playing a little straight ahead jazz in those days. So, James and I had never seen a young guy play like that. My best friend was a guy named Sid Simmons, the piano player, and he was, I think he was auditioning or had just gotten a gig with Grover. And I mean James was a hell of a piano player so his thing was different because he was out of Philly. He played kind of a McCoy Tyner kinda style. And the guys he had heard around Philly. The jazz band from Memphis were all influenced by Phineas Newborn. FB: That's right. BP: And so, James started doing this two-hands stuff and I had never really seen a young guy do that. And like that, either. Most of the time it's just kinda locked hands or double hands kinda like Erroll Garner ? kinda did. FB: Yup, three or four octaves apart. BP: But in a jazz context 'cause I hadn't heard Phineas Newborn at that time. I was listenin’ to Oscar Peterson, the only other guy who could play that in a virtuosic sort of way. FB: And the whole keyboard. BP: The whole keyboard like be-bop lines two hands, like that. And James could do that. So I was like wow. FB: Breathtaking. BP: I didn't realize it at the time, but the reason he had that left hand going is because he's left handed. Which is remarkable for a piano player to be left handed and still being able to solo like traditional players with his right hand. That's when I met him and we talked and decided we'd start to playin’ together and from that point on. He was probably the biggest... He was teaching at Berklee. I think I just started teaching at Berklee. We both kinda started around the same time. FB: This is around ‘74? BP: ‘74-75. And James was really my mentor. He really was. He was younger than me, but he wouldn't allow me... back in those days, excuse me, I was still very insecure about a lot of aspects about my playing and ... FB: Because you'd been tough on yourself. BP: Yeah. Well yeah, that's maybe before the transition of thinking differently on how to motivate myself on how to become a better musician. Man, I better have some water. But James really, James has this positive sort of approach to everything. He's full of positivity. There's just -- if there's no gigs in town we'll invent one. If there's no place that's hiring musicians to play we'll knock on every door til somebody does. He had that mentality. He made more stuff happen. And he's always like that. Even when he went to New York, he was doing the same thing. FB: He exuded a quiet confidence and warmth. BP: Oh, very much so. Very much so, he just believed, “Well, nobody's gonna try to give you anything, you might as well…” He was an entrepreneurial kind of guy even before I used the word or knew what the word meant. He was always trying to find a way for his experience in music and to pulled his circle of friends along with him. FB: Which was a wide one. BP: He pulled a whole bunch of us along. FB: He sure did. Whenever I talk with James, it was a sense of confidentiality and he was really talking directly to you and it was meant for your ears only. He engaged people beautifully. BP: Yeah, he was a real Southern guy in the most positive of ways. He could bring you into his thing and then he could send you out, and you could become one of his minions running around. He did that for a lot of people. I mean, I still have a lot of people who I would not know except through James. Who are just wonderful people I've met. I mean a board of trustee member, Roden Ordel. I met him through James. I met all kinds of people through James. He just had that way of bringing people in. And people just: “Oh, that Jimmy Williams, he's such a wonderful fellow!” Every time you met somebody they all loved James. He had that Southern thing, but he also seemed like a person that was really sincere, this kind of a positive energy. So people just kind of related to ... it was just good to be around a guy like James. He just died too soon. FB: We miss that genuinely Southern touch. 'Cause we don't see a lot of that in New England. BP: Yeah, you don't see it anywhere. It's not even in the South anymore, not like that. And that was another connection between, we were both Southern guys. And a lot of the guys we hung out with, all of ‘em, well not all of ‘em but the majority of ‘em. He brought his friend Bill Easley.