Even for those with proven greatness, the pursuit of stardom can be a cruel fate. For John Gary Williams — the singer for the Mad Lads, whose success on Stax's Volt subsidiary was derailed when he was drafted in 1966 — the possibility of redemption is at hand. Thanks to the hard work of Williams, Emmy-winning producer John Hubbell, and Stax eminence Deanie Parker, Williams has another shot.
When Williams returned to the U.S., he was reinstated into the Mad Lads (against the wishes of his band mates) at the insistence of Stax founder Jim Stewart. A mix-up in 1968 involving the civil-rights-era agitators the Invaders landed him in prison. Upon his release, Williams recorded a long-missing 1973 self-titled solo album. Williams' album was not released: a casualty of label mismanagement on a scale comparable to the period's musical grandiosity. This is late-period Stax: Strings and a funky rhythm section combine for epic soul music.
This Saturday, he will perform in concert with Opus One and soul revivalists the Bo-Keys at the Levitt Shell. It's the first performance of music from Williams' album. Hubbell and Parker have worked for nearly a decade to locate the masters and negotiate their release, an effort still in the works. Hubbell and photographer Lance Murphey are also producing a documentary to tell Williams' story. To watch the trailer, go to iseehopememphis.com and get on board with this Memphis homecoming.
John Gary Williams with Opus One and the Bo-Keys, Levitt Shell, Saturday, September 28th, 7:30 p.m. The concert is free.