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Jody Williams on Pitbull hit: ‘That is my music’


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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:14AM

The Pitbull hit “Back In Time,” the first single off the soundtrack for the upcoming film “Men in Black 3” (in theaters May 27), journeys back in time to sample the 1957 Mickey & Sylvia smash “Love is Strange.”

The song has an even stranger Chicago history.

Mickey & Sylvia recorded it for Groove records, but the Latin guitar riff that defines “Love Is Strange” was laid down by underrated Chicago blues-soul guitarist Jody Williams. During the mid-1950s, Williams was a guitarist for Bo Diddley, who recorded for the Checker imprint at Chess. Williams recorded for Chess’s Argo label. Williams was with Diddley in 1956 at the (recently restored) Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., when they debuted “Love is Strange.” Williams wrote the music.

“I haven’t heard the Pitbull song,” Williams said Tuesday from his home in northwest Indiana. “But if it is any part of ‘Love Is Strange’ that is my music, man.”

Williams, 77, appeared with Diddley (who died in 2008) one more time, at the 2002 Chicago Blues Festival.

In an interview before that concert, Williams told me, “Mickey was a studio musician and had a sharp ear. Bo and I were playing ‘Love Is Strange.’ I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked back and Mickey was behind the curtain. We got back to Chicago, and one day I’m in the Chess studio [4750 S. Cotage Grove] with James Moody listening to some new cuts Ahmad Jamal had made. Bo Diddley walked in and told me he let Mickey & Sylvia have ‘Love Is Strange’ for $2,000. I haven’t seen a dime [in royalties] of it yet.”

The songwriting credit was initally given to Ethel Smith (Diddley’s wife). Now the song is credited to Ellis McDaniel (Diddley’s real name) and Baker. The “Love Is Strange” case wound up in litigation, and in November, 1961, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Williams, who was represented by Gene Goodman, the brother of jazz cat Benny Goodman. But Gene Goodman and the Chess brothers were part owners of a publishing company controlled by Chess Records. Williams believed a deal was cut to benefit Arc and Chess at his expense.

Williams again brought up the “Love Is Strange” credit when he saw Diddley at the 2002 blues fest.

“[Diddley] told me he wouldn’t steal anything from me,” Williams said Tuesday. “I knew Bo since grammar school. He said he loved me like a brother. Big lie. We didn’t talk too much about it because one thing would have led to something else. But that is my music. I never got any royalties.”

However, Williams recently went to the mailbox and received a nice royalty check for “I Was Fooled,” which he wrote for Chicago blues harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold. The song has been covered twice by Eric Clapton, first with the Yardbirds and then as a bonus track on the 2010 release “Clapton.”

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