The Mad Lads

John Gary Williams was the original lead singer of the Stax group known as the Mad Lads, along with Booker T. Washington High School mates William Brown, Julius Green, and Harold Thomas. One of the label’s few vocal groups, they began as The Emeralds, but changed their name to the Mad Lads at the suggestion of then-Stax publicity director Deanie Parker because of their prankster, high school antics. They cut their first record at Stax in 1964, “Sidewalk Surf,” written by Marvell Thomas, Isaac Hayes, and drummer Carl Cunningham. It didn’t chart and the group has said they didn’t like the record (although it is a sought-after collector’s item today), but they came back the following year with the Volt hit single “Don’t Have to Shop Around.”

Williams and Brown were drafted into the army during the Vietnam War in 1966 and were temporarily absent from the group with replacements standing in for them. Williams eventually rejoined the group and it would go through a succession of changes in its members. In 1973, Williams recorded one solo album at Stax, The Whole Damn World Is Going Crazy. After Stax Records closed in 1975, Williams worked for a while at a packing plant in Iowa and as a cab driver in Los Angeles, but never lost his love of songwriting, recording, and performing.

After an incarnation of the group reactivated to record in 1984 and again in 1990, the Mad Lads enjoyed renewed popularity and toured on package shows with the likes of James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and the Stylistics. Today, Williams continues to perform and tour with the current version of the Mad Lads.