by Craig Keyzer

Larry "Junior Medlow" Williams, Texas soul singer supreme, belted it out for over 20 years in several influential bands from the 1970s through the 1990s. As frontman for The Cobras (1978-1984), The Bad Boys (1986-1990), and Tornado Alley (1990-1996), Junior Medlow blew away audiences with his explosive combination of blues, soul, butt-shakin’ R&B, jazz and rock. He could do it all and deliver it with one of the strongest voices to ever come out of Texas. Chris Duarte and John Jordan both played for years in Junior Medlow & The Bad Boys, learning a lot during this powerfully creative period of music. This is a phone interview I did with Junior from his home in Lubbock, Texas, on 5/3/95.

Junior, how did you become so musical?
Musically, all I needed were the frustrations of society to make me musical. I love people. That’s where my music comes from. Anything I write you better know we’re gonna’ all understand it! I don’t do anything I can’t feel. I won’t do anything I can’t relate to. I play the blues, but I’m not a bluesman. I’m a black man that understands the blues. The blues brings you the blues. I admire anybody that can deliver it. I been doin’ it for 30 years. I’ll be 42 in August. The road has already cost me a wife and three kids.

When were you first in Austin?
I’d been playin’ for years in the Lubbock area and moved to Austin in ‘73 and stayed one year with a band called Showdown. We had the dubious distinction of being on the Bob Hope show. Austin was trying to be cool at that time. I couldn’t believe people were trying to relive the 40’s and 50’s, wearing zoot-suits and all that crap. Another band I was in at that time was Sweet Tea and it was also my first experience in the recording studio.

Tell me about your time fronting the legendary Austin band The Cobras.
I was in the Cobras for seven years. I was in there when Stevie and Double Trouble were opening shows for us. Stevie Ray Vaughan used to open shows for us all over the United States. On the road, people all over were always very enthusiastic about our Texas approach. You know, gut-level, raw. The East Coast especially. When the Cobras went to the East Coast, we just destroyed them with our attitude, with our hunger. We were there to deliver. We played with the Nighthawks about a dozen times, Roomful of Blues a dozen times. No bigger enemy did we have than the T-Birds. The T-Birds did not want us anywhere near them when they played! If a band has got professional musicians in it, then there’s no excuse not to kill! We took no prisoners. Chris and I did the same thing - we left no prisoners. Every night. When the Cobras broke up I headed back to Lubbock for a couple of years.

When did you first hear of Chris Duarte?
He was playing the Black Cat Lounge and I had just moved back to Austin. I heard this guy who was playin’ the blues with an authentic touch. I sat in with him that night and we rocked. It clicked right off the bat. He was doing the album project (Chris Duarte & The Bad Boys) and he called me and asked me to come down. It was in the studio that I first saw Chris’s jazz background. We became a band right after that. I started getting some shows booked and I hired them. It went from Chris Duarte & The Bad Boys to Junior Medlow & The Bad Boys. I knew Chris about 3 weeks when it became apparent, in my mind, that Stevie would never ever go to the musical heights that Chris is capable of going musically. Chris would just mesmerize you with, with - he would be consumed by the music! Stevie and Chris have both made the same passage by me. Chris and Stevie are a lot alike, except Chris has the added dimension of Hendrix, Santana and any of your jazz greats. He’s such a well-rounded individual when it comes down to his knowledge, his pursuit.

How about bassist John Jordan?
Paul Babb was the original bass player. About a year and a half into it we started having some real difficulty with bass players. John Jordan became a member later on. Chris met him doing some sessions with some jazz guy. We rehearsed one time and went with him. John is such an easy guy to get along with and is so productive. They became a team automatically because their sense of timing was so perfect. John’s got great ears and great restraint. He’s the integral part of Chris being able to change from one direction to another without losing a step. Look at the band Stevie had. Look at the musicianship Chris has behind him vs. what Stevie had behind him. Tommy Shannon and Whipper Layton, they’re good, but they couldn’t play with me. They couldn’t go through the changes I go through. But John and Chris - they can do anything anybody could ever want to do! Those guys are phenomenal! They’re meant to be!

What finally happened to The Bad Boys?
Chris left the band in 1990 and was trying to strike out on his own. We had quit touring for awhile and were working on a record project. John did some sit-in gigs with Arson and Justus and I was sitting in with Tornado Alley. I found that I could keep it more soulful all night with Tornado Alley, pump it up with a horn section and get away from all the guitar solos and stuff. I was going more towards what I write. As a stand-up singer you can’t have songs getting to where they go for 10 and 12 minutes long and expect to have people on the dance floor, especially if you’re selling dance music. It worked out to where I could put a little more polish on the nucleus of what I was doing and keep the human edge. I don’t go out to give a musical education to the audience, they want to be entertained. When the realization of time made the split, it wasn’t because we didn’t get along or because we couldn’t create together. In all the years we played together, the three of us, Chris, John and myself, never had an argument once. That’s saying a lot. Four years. It was a tremendous experience. We went all over. Chicago, the Midwest, all over. It was a real trip.

What do you think of Chris Duarte’s music these days?
He’s not doing “Moment’s Notice” and stuff like that, anymore. Chris has really shown a lot of restraint to hold back his actual fire. I just hope Chris stays away from following the leads of people saying “Do this Arc Angels kind of stuff”. Don’t do anything that’s anybody else - do you. Don’t ever compromise your artistic ability and integrity to patronize an audience that, once your days are gone, couldn’t care less. Chris is one of the most phenomenal musicians I have met in my whole existence. I love him and you can bet when our paths cross, we’ll definitely be playin’!

 

Larry "Junior Medlow" Williams passed away on April 17, 1997

Click HERE for a tribute to this incredible musician


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