Platter Perfect

Photo of Randolphe Harris by Hank Saltzman
Photo by Hank Salzman

19+ year association on and off-stage
with Tony Williams and the Platters:

picture it!: Fall 1967; the 'first annual' Fallsberg Folk-Festival Camp-out Contest Jamboree:

That's where i first met "Helen (Shad) Williams - Tony's Wife-and-Cook" (she always introduced heself on stage that way): after introducing the band and just before: "... and from Elizabeth New Jersey, the one and only, Solid Gold, Tony 'My Prayer' Williams", she'd get around to, "...and the newest member of the Platters family, on Acoustic 12-String, Randolphe ( i was Rande in those days) Harris; and our Music Director - he's been with us all over the world - ladies and gentlemen, Raymond Jones!; ladies and gentlemen, Raymond Jones!!; and me?, I'm Helen Williams, Tony's Wife-and-Cook."

Every morsel of food that i saw cooked in their penthouse where we held rehearsals, Tony "My Prayer" Williams did the cooking, especially on stage.

This is where i learned to see what it means to "deliver" a song (when a performer really connects with/ "gets to" an audience); really gives them their money's worth and then some, saving the big finish etc., and also giving the songs clarity and substance.

Tony died in 1992, so that makes 25 years of association, whether playing major Rock-and-Roll Revivals in venues like the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden or little 'chittlin' circuit dives in very out-of-the-way places.

The real reason that Helen Williams kept me in the "Platters Family" is that since i could duplicate Tony 's vocal range and as the years went on learned much from his style, she wanted me as a 'stand-in' for the great front-man.  

More than a little hen pecked (to the day he died, i don't think Helen had much understanding of how very much he truly adored her), the only moment of real power in his off-stage life was a few minutes before curtain/showtime when, if she wouldn't let up in her relentless controlling barrage (a trait which sadly, soured many an old, hard won business relationship), he'd defiantly say, "Well f... it then, I ain't goin' on!" and she had to cool it.  Her secret agenda was that she wanted to say, "ok then i'll get Randolphe (Rande) to sing your part!"

There was no way in hell i was getting into the middle of that, and i knew that it'd be depriving him of his one off-stage moment of power and dignity, so i just stayed in the back-up band, played my 12 string and LEARNED from the MASTER of delivering, "selling" a song and giving it one's all!

In a way, maybe every performance i do is somewhat dedicated to "...the one and only, 'Solid Gold' Tony 'My Prayer' Williams".  In my forty-plus years of singing and performing, no one's ever asked for their money back.

Pete Seeger taught me most of what i know about the 12 string guitar, song leading and so much more in the four decades+ of a truly great friend and mentor relationship. To all who have expressed envy or jealousy i say, "Do you show up to chop wood together/to do like friends do?"

Sinatra will always be my guru of phrasing,

Gladys Night my (s)hero of what you can do if you put 100% of your voice in it,

"Slow Hand", Eric Clapton, my favorite singer,

Ray Charles, my inspiration to "keep some honest 'soul' in it",

Richie Havens, master of style and realism in a song, (there has never been, in my opinion, a song which could not be improved by wrapping Richie Havens around it),

and Joni Mitchell, bravest 'big sister' and trail-blazer we could ask for,

But Tony Williams taught me how to deliver a song!

An interesting aside - once when attempting to illustrate the cultural importance of Tony Williams, i dragged "our Music Director" Raymond Jones into the little 'mom-and-pop' newstand/candy store on Bleeker St. and Sixth Ave. in Greenwich Village NY, and asked 'Ange', who had no damn time for anything or anyone, between the kids, the never-ending rush of customers, twelve to fourteen hour days, and a long commute to Staten Island six or seven days a week, "hey Ange!, ya wanna go hear Tony Williams and the Platters?" she distractedly replied, "aw Ran, geez i don't know, what with my schedule i don't hardly go nowhere any more" and then as the realization ('TW & the P!') hit her, she finally looked up and said, "Why?  You got a ticket?!"

- i told this story at Tony's funeral; afterwards a woman button-holed me in the church lobby (you know the "Jazz Church" up on Park Ave - is it St. Marks?), and said, "I'm so glad you told that story about how important their music was, i lost my virginity in the back seat, listening to ...." i forget exactly which song, but i remember that it was one of the four we started every long set (and they were never short sets) with: "Only You", "The Great Pretender" (get me to sing that for you sometime), "Twilight Time", and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", and we'd end every set, of course (after the master showman had lulled the crowed into thinking he'd lost his edge by intentionally shading the big notes in each song), by NAILING " the end of...MY - PRAYER!" and the chandelier would shake

- thanks T