Although Lenny Williams has had a long solo career, he is still best-known for his three years as the lead singer of Tower of Power, one of the top funk/soul bands of the '70s. But Williams was pursuing a solo career before joining Tower of Power, and he resumed his solo career after leaving that famous Oakland outfit in 1975. Born in Little Rock, AR, on February 6, 1945, Williams was only a child when he started singing in church (the place where so many great R&B singers got their start). Williams, who moved to Oakland, CA, when he was 14, planned to become a Christian minister but ended up changing his mind and decided to pursue a career as a secular R&B singer. In 1969, Williams signed with Fantasy and recorded his first single, "Lisa's Gone," a soul ballad that was far from a big hit, but did receive some airplay in the Bay Area. After providing a second single for Fantasy, Williams was signed to Atlantic by Jerry Wexler and recorded a version of the Thom Bell/Linda Creed gem "People Make the World Go Round." Williams' version might have been a hit -- had it not been for the Stylistics, that is. Unfortunately for Williams, the Stylistics' famous version of "People Make the World Go Round" came out as a single and soared to the top of the charts before Atlantic had a chance to release Williams' version. (Michael Jackson also recorded the tune in the early '70s, although not with the same set of lyrics that the Stylistics embraced). But that setback was hardly the end of Williams' career; in 1972, he was hired as the new lead singer of Tower of Power. Because the band's previous lead singer, Rick Stevens (best-known for his soaring performance on the hit ballad "You're Still a Young Man") had recently been convicted of murder, a replacement was needed, and Williams was definitely the man for the job.
Williams' three years with Tower of Power established him as a big name in soul and funk and he became famous for his lead vocals on major hits like "What Is Hip?," "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)," "This Time It's Real," and the ballad "So Very Hard to Go." But while Tower of Power was a big break for Williams, he only stuck around for three years; in 1975, the Bay Area resident left the band and became a full-time solo artist. His first few solo albums (recorded for Motown) didn't do much, but his solo career took off in a big way when he recorded Choosing You for ABC. That 1977 release (which contains the major hit "Shoo Doo Fu Fu Ooh!") almost went gold in the U.S. (meaning that it sold close to 500,000 units). Williams next solo effort, Spark of Love (also on ABC), became his first gold solo album and boasted the hit ballad "Cause I Love You." After providing a few albums for MCA, Williams recorded for the independent Rocshire label in 1983 and 1984; when that company folded, he was deprived of a 50,000 dollar advance he said he was owed. Disgusted with music industry, Williams considered giving up singing and devoted a lot of his time to real estate investments. But in 1986, Williams ended up signing with Knobhill, a short-lived indie that was distributed by Fantasy. Williams' 1986 LP, New Episode, wasn't a blockbuster, although the single "Ten Ways of Loving You" became a minor hit and reached number 67 on Billboard's R&B singles chart. But while Williams wasn't as big in the '80s and '90s as he was in the '70s, he still had a loyal following. In 1994, he recorded Chill for Bellmark; Williams' next album, Love Therapy, came out on Volt/Fantasy in 2000. ~ Alex Henderson
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