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Subject: Paul Williams, rock pioneer

dead at 87
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Date Posted: October 01, 2002 1:33:08 EDT

Paul Williams, a saxophonist and bandleader whose 1948 recording of "The Hucklebuck" was an important precursor of rock 'n' roll, died on Sept. 14 in New York City. He was 87.

Released early in 1949 on the Newark-based Savoy label, "The Hucklebuck" (it was hyphenated on the original record label) was No. 1 on the rhythm-and-blues charts for 14 weeks. A shuffle-blues instrumental built around the sound of a furiously honking saxophone, it helped give impetus to the raucous variant of rhythm and blues that evolved into rock 'n' roll. It also gave Mr. Williams an identity: from 1949 until the end of his career, he was billed as Paul Hucklebuck Williams.

Although closely associated with Mr. Williams, "The Hucklebuck" was written by Andy Gibson, and, many jazz historians say, adapted without credit from Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time," which Savoy recorded in 1945.

Mr. Williams began his career as a jazz musician but became part of rock history on March 21, 1952, when he was on the bill at the Moondog Coronation Ball, a show at the Cleveland Arena promoted by the disc jockey Alan Freed and often called the first rock concert. As it happened, Mr. Williams's band was the only act that performed that night: gate crashing and overcrowding led fire marshals to stop the show shortly after it began.

Paul Williams was born on July 13, 1915, in Lewisburg, Tenn. He began his career in Detroit, where Herman Lubinsky, the owner of Savoy Records, heard him at a nightclub and sent the producer Teddy Reig to audition him.

"At the time I was playing mostly alto and sometimes clarinet," Mr. Williams said later. "Teddy wanted me to play baritone. I had a baritone, but I very seldom played it. And he had very definite ideas about what I should do. He wanted me to honk. He kept telling me not to play a whole lot of notes. He kept saying: `Honk! Honk! Honk!' "

Mr. Williams had a number of hits for Savoy between 1947 and 1951, but "The Hucklebuck" was by far the biggest.

In the early and middle 1960's Mr. Williams was music director for the singers James Brown and Lloyd Price and did session work for Atlantic Records. After opening a talent agency in New York in 1968, he rarely performed again.

He is survived by two sons, Earl and Eric, and a daughter, Erin.

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