Willi Williams was one of roots reggae's key artists during its lively and fruitful '70s heyday, though he worked as a producer and performer well before and long after, growing along with the ever-turning tide of Jamaican music. Williams came onto the Studio One scene in 1966, recording a track called "Calling" for the label and later working as a producer for artists ranging from Delroy Wilson to the Versatiles. He and Bobby Kalphat established the Soul Sounds label in 1969, releasing their various productions. Williams would work closely with toaster Yabby You, organist Jackie Mittoo, songwriter Bob Andy, and other reggae superstars as the years burned on, splitting his time between Kingston and Toronto, Canada, and spreading his creative energy out across production work for others and his own recordings.
The year 1978 saw the arrival of Williams' most recognizable hit, "Armagideon Time," a burning roots jam punctuated by smooth organ riffing and subdued tenor crooning. The Clash famously recorded the song around the time of their monolithic London Calling album, and other artists would also lay down renditions of the tune over the years. Williams' Messenger Man album arrived in 1980, cementing his profile as not just a top-notch producer but also an essential performer. The '80s and 90's would see Williams touring the world, as well as working with names like Dennis Brown, Augustus Pablo, Aswad, and many other greats, all the while issuing his own singles and albums.
An album entitled Armagideon Time arrived in 1982, filling more tunes out to album length around the single of the same name. Roots & Culture, a split album with Barry Brown, arrived in 1984, followed by multiple singles and then a rush of albums with Natty with a Cause in 1992, See Me in 1993, and Jah Will in 1994. In 2007 Southern jam band Gov't Mule reinterpreted Williams' song "Natty with a Cause" as "Rebel with a Cause," recording a version of the song that included samples of his voice from the original. Through the late '90s, 2000s, and on into the 2010s, Williams released multiple albums with Drum Street Records, including Thanks & Devotion in 1999, DJ Real Rock in 2007, and Reggae Can't Done in 2013.
In 2014 a previously unissued collection of tracks recorded by Williams and Yabby You in the late '70s surfaced on the Shanachie label. The compilation Unification: From Channel One to King Tubby's took its place as one of the more legitimate entries among countless other reissues and repackagings of Williams' music both legal and -- in many cases -- completely unlicensed. ~ Fred Thomas