TIR 64: How Ricky Williams Lit Mass Production’s Firecracker Fuse

Ricky Williams pictured far left.

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Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 64 (three segments): Ricardo (Ricky) Williams — a founding member and drummer, singer and composer for the 1970s and 1980s funk, dance and R&B band Mass Production. Based in Norfolk, Va., together with his brother Tyrone Williams, close friend LeCoy Bryant, female vocalist Agnes Kelly and six other band members, Mass Production released eight albums and 11 singles on the Cotillion label between 1976 and 1983. Their best-known and noteworthy songs included “Welcome to Our World,” “I Believe in Music,” “Just Wanna Make a Dream Come True,” “Watch Me Do It,” “Sky High,” “Groove Me,” “Can’t You See I’m Fired Up,” “Eyeballin’,” “Forever,” “Nature Lover,” “Shante,” “Turn Up the Music,” “Bopp,” “Saucey,” “Inner City” and “Rock.”

However, the track they are most famous for is their smash 1979 hit “Firecracker.” Although the large ensemble to a large extent lurked within the shadow of labelmate funk giant Slave and was sometimes confused with similar bands like Brass Construction, Mass Production definitely had its own unique thang as well. Its propulsive rhythms that Ricky Williams drove were boosted by some powerful guitar and bass playing, punctuated and further propelled by robust horns and raised to a whole other level with lush vocals and rich harmonies. Influences abound from Norman Whitfield and the Temptations to Earth, Wind and Fire to Bohannon to the Bar-Kays and, yes, even to Slave and Brass Construction — and later on even Prince. It is fantastic news that the group has been ramping back up again with plans to release new music and take it to the stage.

Here, Williams leaves no Mass Production stone unturned, including the influence of marching bands on his approach and style, how he named the band, wrote classics like “Firecracker,” his reluctance to be a lead singer, rising to prominence and meeting other famous musicians, how his younger brother Sam Williams took over drumming duties after he took more than a year to recover from a car accident in the early 1980s, how the record industry ultimately chewed up and spat out the band, what happened subsequently, and how he and several original members are primed and pumped to be turning up the music once again.

A special thanks to Larry Raichelson, who has been working with and handling some affairs for Mass Production, for helping make this interview happen.

Recorded August 2018

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