Born Johnny Lee Williams on January 15, 1942, in Tyler, AL, he moved to Chicago in 1956 and attended DuSable High School on the city's south side. He honed his vocal skills by singing in church and in the Royal Jubilees, a gospel quartet. Switching to secular music, Williams was managed by Pervis Spann ("The Blues Man") and E. Rodney Jones, announcers at legendary R&B radio station WVON 1450 AM. The singer began writing songs, with one, "My Baby's Good" b/w an ode to the dance craze "Philly Dog," being issued by local label Chess Records in 1966.
Three years later, Williams signed with Dakar Records owned by producer Carl Davis (Gene Chandler, Chi-Lites, Jackie Wilson). The first single, "I Made a Mistake," was co-written by Williams, Willie Henderson, and Lee Simmons; on the flip side was "Baby Be Mine." Other songs Williams co-wrote included "Teach Me How," "Being Wanted, Needed and Loved," "Let's All Participate," "Nona Baby," "I Need Your Love," "Singing to the Starlight," and "When the Pumpkin's Turning Yellow."
In the early '70s, Williams moved to Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International Records. The single, "Slow Motion, Pt.1," written by Gamble & Huff, b/w "Shall We Gather by the Water," written by Phil Hurtt and Bunny Sigler, hit number 12 R&B on Billboard's charts in fall 1972. Another Gamble & Huff song, "It's So Wonderful" b/w "Love Don't Rub Off," was a PIR single. Other singles by Williams include "I'd Like to Be With You" on Cub, "Women" on Twinight, and "Don't Call for Me," "He Will Break Your Heart," and "Sweet Memories" on Epic. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi