Jason Mraz's '93 Million Miles' Video, Plus a Conversation With Andre Williams and Blood Company & TeamWork Team Up

11/19/2012 12:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017
American singer-songwriter Jason Mraz speaks during a press conference before his concert on Friday, June 29, 2012 in Singapo
American singer-songwriter Jason Mraz speaks during a press conference before his concert on Friday, June 29, 2012 in Singapore at the newly opened Gardens By The Bay. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)



A while back, I interviewed humanitarian Jason Mraz about his latest album, Love Is A Four Letter Word, and the project's simple "93 Million Miles" came up. It's a fan favorite in addition to being clever, touching, and philosophical as well as mathematically correct. Amidst the progressive songwriter's list of astral geography and imparted parental wisdom, Jason proposes, "Lookin' deeper through the telescope, you can see that your home's inside of you. Just know that wherever you go, you're never alone, you will always get back home." You probably can guess what's 93 million miles away, but check out this sweet video, which was directed here on Earth by Jeff Coffman and recorded during Mraz's recent appearance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado.


A Conversation With Andre Williams

Mike Ragogna: Andre Williams, how are you?

Andre Williams: I'm great, I'm great, I'm great.

MR: Nice. I appreciate your time today, and I want to talk to you about Night And Day, sir. Tell me about the album a little bit.

AW: Well, it's a funny thing about that album. That album started out when I was in deep trouble with alcohol and all the other bad things -- any bad thing that you could probably mention. We started out on that album at that time and through that whole period, the album spoke for itself. Now that I'm sober, things are most high. It almost tells the story of the struggle that I went through.

MR: Andre, what's the story of you and The Sadies?

AW: Well what part of the story of that? That's a long story.

MR: Go into the long story, we have time.

AW: At the beginning, I didn't know for sure if I wanted to work with The Sadies because I had no idea who they were and how good they were. Everybody kept telling me, "Andre, they're coming here to Chicago and you need to go and see these guys. They are good." And I went to see them and I was totally amazed. And then after seeing them I went and had a chance to introduce myself to them and then that was when I found out what kind of guys they really were. Those guys are fantastic. They are true gentlemen. I had not experienced being that friendly with a Canadian before, I didn't know what kind of attitude they had so I really didn't know how to really approach them, but they're so open. These guys were so open and receptive to me and it just went off from that point.

MR: In 1999, you had the album Red Dirt. That was recorded with them as well, right?

AW: Yeah.

MR: That's the first project you did with The Sadies?

AW: That was the first one, yes.

MR: Nice, and you've been collaborating with them kind of on and off ever since.

AW: Yep, ever since. We've become very good friends. We're in business now. Dallas and the boys have become almost like my little brothers.

MR: Nice. Of course, you have a reputation for being a songwriter, writing "Shake a Tail Feather," which Ike & Tina Turner had a big hit with, and the awesomely titled "Bacon Fat." You also co-wrote "Thank You For Loving Me" with Stevie Wonder, right?

AW: Right, right.

MR: As a songwriter, how did you approach the songwriting on Night And Day? You've got titles like "The Seventy-Year Old," "Your Old Lady,"... Do you have a story that can go along with a couple of this album's songs?

AW: Definitely! "I Gotta Get Shorty Out Of Jail," that's the story. Shorty is a half a pint of Bacardi rum, and I was hooked on it. I was hooked on rum and every time we'd pass a liquor store, I would tell the driver, "Stop, I've got to get Shorty out of jail!" It got popular to where the drivers and The Sadies and everybody new "Andre, you want to stop and get Shorty out of jail?" That's where that started. Shorty was a half a pint of Bacardi White rum.

MR: Was the rest of the crew interested in Shorty, too?

AW: Not really. They were drinking, but only on occasions. I was the only one that was drinking night and day, 24/7.

MR: Is that where the album title Night And Day came from?

AW: Well, no, but I guess it does relate to that.

MR: Andre, go into the title concept.

AW: Well the title relates to the first three or four or five songs related to the trauma that I was going through during the time I was with Ike and Tina and going through the drug situation. That was the "night" part of my life, and the other part became when I got myself together and realized there was another way of living and another way of having fun. Then, I realized that was the "day." The sun had come up and I really could live and there was daylight. I guess that's how Dallas heard my character, as coming out of the dark into life.

MR: That's beautiful. You also have "I Thank God." Did that come out of the experience?

AW: Oh, yeah, yeah. All of those were really during the traumatic part of my life.

MR: But you had things to be thankful for, for instance, your music, et cetera.

AW: Oh yeah, and I'm thanking them every day. It's neither I nor people that know me believed that Andre Williams would live to be seventy-five years old. If people had bet on that, they'd have won big money.

MR: You say that humorously, but on the other hand, you did make it to this point and you have had love from all your friends, haven't you.

AW: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

MR: And that's what helps you through.

AW: Absolutely. I've got some great friends all over the world and that was my support, definitely. That was my support that people were just urging me to hang in there and get myself together and get straight because there is much more to life than I was getting. I could've gotten more. I never realized I was robbing myself; I was spending two dollars for a ten-cent drink. I was paying too much. I was giving too much of Andre Williams to the wrong side of life.

MR: Beautifully said. Let's go to "Me and My Dog." To me, that song is like a summation, how you've got your friends, you've got your people, you've got your love.

AW: Absolutely, you hit it on the head.

MR: So you go on a journey from "I've Got To Get Shorty Out Of Jail" to "Me And My Dog." Can you tell me the story behind the writing of it?

AW: Well, "Me and My Dog" came from a situation where I was really what you call "in love." Now, I've learned what love really is, but at that time, I didn't know. I was with this lady and we were together and we had a cute little white poodle called Mister Roach. What happened was me and her broke up and after we broke up, it was just me and Mister Roach together by ourselves in this big apartment, and the furniture was hers and she took all of the furniture and it was just one great big apartment with nothing in it, just me and my dog. [laughs]

MR: But in the end, it didn't matter. It's almost like it was stripped down to what mattered the most, you and your dog. It's about the one that loved really all along you.

AW: Yeah, you hit it right on the head. That was my best friend. He was with me through thick and thin.

MR: Let's talk about thick and thin. One of my favorite songs on here is "America (You Say 'A Change Is Gonna Come')." It reminds me -- at least in its mood -- of Sam Cooke's amazing "A Change Is Gonna Come." Can you go into the story behind that one, too?

AW: This is just my belief, but I don't believe that we have seen the entire change. This thing is going to change into something that you and I probably would never had imagined and I can feel it and I can see it developing in itself. This is going to be unbelievable. I probably won't be here to see it, you might, you sound like you might, but this is going to be a very, very interesting world. This is going to be a world where you don't have to do nothing but wake up. If you've got enough sense to wake up, that's all you'll have to do. You won't have to go out, everything will be computerized. You'll push a button, and you won't have to do nothing but just open your eyes.

MR: Hopefully, you will get to see that, sir.

AW: Yeah, I'd rather never see it because that'd be a little too sweet for me.

MR: [laughs] Can we talk for a second about your classic "Shake a Tail Feather"?

AW: That was during the time that we were touring on one of another friend of mine's hit record. I can't remember exactly how it came about, but he invited us to come to Memphis, Tennessee, to open the show for him. On the way down, there we were driving and I could see all of these different people picking cotton and all of those different situations going on down South. Also, at that time, dances were very popular, like "Shake Your Ass" -- excuse the language -- and you had to really watch your moves. There were a lot of things you couldn't say on the radio that you can get away with now. The song was really "Shake Your Tail," but I knew that wasn't going to fly, so I had to figure out some kind of way to say that. During the time, we were going down South, I saw these chickens and these chickens had these tails with the little feather and I said, "That's it. Shake A Tail Feather," and everybody could relate to exactly where the tail feather was, you know? It wasn't something that really had to be explained. A lot of things you have to explain, but you don't have to explain a tail feather.

MR: And did you do the same thing with "Sweet Little Pussycat?"

AW: [long pause] Yeah. Basically. That was a true-to-life experience.

MR: Okay, and Andre, I need to ask about another of your classics, "Bacon Fat." What's the story behind that one?

AW: The story behind that was I was born down South and I always wanted to write poems, and when I came to Chicago and I saw all of these different dances... I can't even remember all of them, and I was trying to figure out how to get all the audiences where a tricky lick wouldn't dance. I just decided I'd just come low like Johnny Cash and just "Bacon Fat." And it worked.

MR: I think you did the same thing with "Jail Bait," right?

AW: That was another experience.

MR: Tell a little bit of that one.

AW: [laughs] I'd rather forget about that one.

MR: All right, but we can't forget about the song you co-wrote with Stevie Wonder, "Thank You For Loving Me." Do you remember how that happened?

AW: Well, I think what gave us the inspiration to write "Thank You" was because when we saw Stevie's mother corralling him, she really gave him muscle, and she was right there for him, and that gave us the story.

MR: Very sweet. And yet another group had a hit with one of your songs, "Twine Time."

AW: Okay, that goes back again to dances. I don't know why or how but I'm just stuck on dances. At that time, I think I was broke again and I knew I had to come up with something and Chubby Checker had "The Twist" out. I said "Well, I'll make up a dance song." There was a guy in Chicago who owned a record distributing company and his brother owned Wonderful Records, which "Shake a Tail Feather" was originally on. He asked me to come up with a song that would match all of these dances, because it looked like dances were selling -- "The Twist" and all those other songs. I just said, "Well, maybe I can." I don't know how the word "twine" came in, but that was what it came from. The majority of those songs came from things that I have seen or things that people have introduced to me.

MR: You're also associated with the group The Contours. You over saw a couple of their albums, right?

AW: Yeah.

MR: Do you have a Contours story?

AW: I guess the Contours story would be The Contours were signed with Motown in the early stages, and none of the producers could find a song that would fit them. They were fantastic showmen, but they were not terrific singers, so it was very difficult to try to find the material for them.

MR: But it did come together.

AW: Well, it came together because they were so energetic that it wouldn't have been hard if you took your time to write for them, if they were happy songs. You know what I'm saying? It really didn't matter, if it was just a punch line in there and a good beat.

MR: Right, and speaking of good beats, you also were associated with George Clinton's stable as a songwriter.

AW: Yeah, that was another experience with George, which was a good experience.

MR: We've got to hear about that.

AW: You know, I can't remember too much that would be a highlight with them because George had just formed Funkadelic and I was mostly associated with George before he founded them. I don't really have an outstanding story with Funkadelic because George was a friend of mine.

MR: Well, being pals is significant. How did you write for or with them? Did you show them material and they worked on it or what?

AW: It's like any rehearsal; if somebody had an idea and the idea fit the character and fit the act, then we tried to put them together. We tried to mix it and see if it would gel. If it gelled, then we had a piece of product.

MR: Andre, because of the era, you were doing material that might have been categorized as "Blacksploitation."

AW: Absolutely.

MR: And I mean that in the hipster musical genre sense, of course. Andre, comedian Redd Foxx nicknamed you Mister Rhythm, right?

AW: Yep.

MR: Redd Foxx and Andre Williams. What's that story?

AW: The story there was when I was in the Navy at a station in San Diego, California, on a destroyer. We were stationed in San Diego and they had a club there called The Hot Spot. On weekends when we would come off the ship to go on leave, we would all go to The Hot Spot and Redd Foxx was an MC there. He was just a kid, almost, and he was the MC. He and I got friendly and I think he started me off on this whole ridiculous journey. [laughs]

MR: Well, ridiculous journey or not, you've got a lifetime of experience, so what advice do you have for new artists?

AW: Okay. My advice to a new artist is to make sure that this is what you want to do, and secondly, get yourself a foundation, and that would be an education. If you can put both of those together you should win, but you have to have determination and education. That's like milk and sugar going in coffee. Those two I think are the combination. A good education so you can do your own business, of course, you understand what I'm saying? And determination that nothing can deter you from your goal.

MR: Would that be the same advice you'd give to the young Andre Williams?

AW: Absolutely...absolutely. Make sure that's what you want to do, because you cannot be an entertainer and a postman. It doesn't work. That's like putting pepper on pancakes. It just don't work. The entertainment life is entertainment and that's what it is. You cannot live a dual life when you're an entertainer if you want to succeed.

MR: It's really true, isn't it? There's like nothing else you could do.

AW: Right. Because you never know when the moment is going to come and you're never going to know how you're going to approach it if you're doing something else. If you're delivering mail and all of the sudden you hear a hit, what are you going to do, drop the mail down and run to a piano and go to jail for dropping the mail? Oh, that's a good line.

MR: [laughs] Yeah, it is, and now you've got to come up with a melody to it and then you'll have written a song during this show. How cool is that.

AW: [laughs]

MR: I want to ask you one last thing about The Sadies, is there something you want to say to them right now, at this moment?

AW: I love you to the bottom of my heart, all of you guys.

MR: Beautiful. All right Andre, we should end it there, and I appreciate your time and stories.

AW: Okay buddy, thank you very much.


Blood Company & TeamWork have joined forces to raise funds in support of those effected by Hurricane Sandy. Instead of assembling a concert, they decided to reach more people faster by crowd sourcing and word of mouth.

As the press release put it, "In association with Architecture For Humanity, they are working to rebuild a block in the Rockaways for first responder families -- firefighters, paramedics, etc. A small portion of the donations will also go towards supplies like blankets, food, batteries, and other necessities, in order to touch a few more folks thru organizations like Occupy Sandy."

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