Just after Specialty signed Larry Williams, Specialty lost Little Richard
, who had been their biggest star and guaranteed hitmaker. Little Richard
decided to abandon rock & roll for the ministry shortly after Williams cut his first single, a cover of Price
's "Just Because," with Richard
's backing band; "Just Because" peaked at number 11 on the R&B charts in the spring of 1957. After Richard
left the label, the label put all of its energy into making Williams a star, giving him an image makeover and a set of material -- ranging from hard R&B and rock & roll to ballads -- that was quite similar to Richard
Williams' first post-Little Richard
single was the raucous "Short Fat Fannie," which shot to number one on the R&B charts and number five on the pop charts in the summer of 1957. It was followed in the fall by "Bony Maronie," which hit number four on the R&B charts and number 14 on the pop charts. Williams wasn't able to maintain that momentum, however. "You Bug Me, Baby" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," his next two singles, missed the R&B charts but became minor pop hits in late 1957 and early 1958. Despite the relative failure of these singles, Williams' records became popular import items in Britain; the Beatles
would cover both sides of the "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" single (the B-side was "Slow Down") in the mid-'60s. However, Williams' commercial fortunes in America continued to decline, despite Specialty's release of a constant stream of singles and one full-length album.
In 1959, Williams was arrested for selling narcotics, which caused Specialty to drop him from the record label. During the '60s, he drifted through a number of labels in the early '60s, recording songs for Chess, Mercury, Island, and Decca. By the mid-'60s, he had hooked up Johnny "Guitar" Watson
and the duo cut several sides for OKeh Records in the mid- and late '60s, including the Top 40 R&B hits "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (spring 1967) and "Nobody," which was recorded with Kaleidoscope (early 1968). Williams also became a house producer for OKeh Records in 1966, although very few of his productions became hits.
Between 1968 and and 1978, Williams was inactive, recording nothing and performing very little. In 1978, he released a funk album, That's Larry Williams, for Fantasy Records that sold poorly and received bad reviews. In 1980, Williams was found dead in his Los Angeles home; he died of a gunshot wound to his head. The medical examiners called the death a suicide, but rumors persisted for years after his death that he was murdered because of his involvement in drugs, crime and -- allegedly -- prostitution.
A compilation of Williams' biggest hits and best-known songs entitled Bad Boy was released on Specialty Records in 1989. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi