Special to the Tribune-Star
I was privileged to meet Andy Williams and to learn he was a nice guy. You felt that he was sincere in being glad to meet you. I also learned he was no angel.
Andy’s career began when he was a very young person singing with his older brothers. That trip took him to Des Moines and WHO Radio from his home town of Wall Lake, Iowa. Career moves took him to Cincinnati, New York, and Hollywood. He and his brothers sang back-up on Bing Crosby’s hit record, “Would you like to swing on a star,” and his young tenor voice was what came out of Lauren Bacall’s mouth in the movie, “To have and to have not.” Another one of those famous Bogey and Bacall match-ups. Going solo, Andy sang on the first “Tonight Show” with a couple of aspiring singers who would marry as a result of the show. (All of you know them as Edie Gormeì and Steve Lawrence.) Williams’ first hit records were in the 1950s.
The Bob Crewe Generation had a hit song called, “Music to watch girls by.” Andy would do the vocal version and it would be a hit. Because of that, the radio station I was with (WTHI’s Air Force) gave away girl-watching licenses. Oh, these changing times. We certainly couldn’t do that today. Andy was going to be in Indianapolis shortly after that appearing with Henry Mancini. We would get to go to the concert and the after-concert party to present Andy Williams with a girl- watching license.
We got to meet Henry Mancini and Andy Williams, present Andy with the license, and enjoy the party. Looking around we didn’t see Andy. The place was crawling with women in their early 20s and not an unattractive one in the bunch. They, obviously, were there to get a chance to say hello to Andy Williams. So, where did Andy go?
According to the promotion people, Andy had his own idea of R&R. And they alleged it included a lady for the night. We won’t go into that any further.
Every TV newscast since Williams’ passing has played “Moon River” as his song. But the truth is, the man who wrote the song (Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics) was Henry Mancini. It won an Academy Award for song of the year. And it got to be No. 11 on the charts in 1961. The vocal version of ”Moon River” that got to be a big hit in 1961 was by Jerry Butler, an R&B singer from Chicago. He was so cool they called him the “ice man.” Andy did not record it until after he and Henry Mancini began to tour together in the late 1960’s.
I’ve long since lost my girl-watcher’s license, but I have wonderful memories of playing Andy Williams’ songs. As a gift to Andy, Archie Bleyer, who owned his first label, Cadence Records, gave Andy all of his own masters to keep. A big dollar gift, and a very generous one. Andy would prove just as generous in his career to other people.
From Wall Lake, Iowa to the ears and hearts of thousands of Americans, we’ll certainly miss you, Andy Williams.
Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.