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R.I.P., Mars Williams, Saxophonist for the Waitresses, the Psychedelic Furs, and Liquid Soul, Dead at 68

The sax man also played on Billy Idol's "For a Lover," the Power Station's self-titled debut, and countless other songs and LPs

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Source: Mega

Mars Williams performs with The Psychedelic Furs at Concorde 2 on September 7, 2017

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Mars Williams, whose saxophone can be heard on songs by the Waitresses ("I Know What Boys Like," "Christmas Wrapping"), the Psychedelic Furs ("Here Come Cowboys," "Heartbreak Beat") and everyone from Billy Squier to Ministry, has died at age 68.

Williams, whose passing was confirmed to The Chicago Tribune by his brother Paul, died of ampullary cancer, which affects the area around the small intestine. He was diagnosed with the rare cancer a year ago.

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Source: Mega

Saxophonist Mars Williams performs with The Psychedelic Furs at Concorde 2 on September 7, 2017

Born in Elmhurst, Illinois on May 29, 1955, Williams was introduced to the world of Dixieland jazz and swing music by his father, who played trumpet. Although Williams began as a classical clarinetist, he set aside that instrument in favor of the saxophone, a decision he made in his senior year of high school.

“While I was growing up, my father was playing with the pick-up bands of Gene Kruppa and Tommy Dorsey when they would come through Chicago and the Mid-West,” Williams told the Vermont Review. “I would always be hearing Big Band and Dixieland. He was really into that it. I went more towards the Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker... They were my first real influences. Then Ornette Coleman and the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) in Chicago. I became really interested in the avant-garde and free-jazz. So I always had a jazz interest, but at the same time, I had a lot of interest in rock and funk.”

It was those latter interests - particularly the rock part - which led Williams into the orbit of guitarist/songwriter Christopher Butler and, in turn, into the lineup of the Waitresses, with the band playing its first live concert on New Year's Eve 1980.

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While the Waitresses may be best known for their debut single, "I Know What Boys Like," and their holiday classic, "Christmas Wrapping," the band also famously recorded the theme song to the short-lived '80s sitcom Square Pegs. Although the band only released two albums during the course of their existence (1982's Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful? and 1983's Bruiseology), the conclusion of their career arrived at just the right moment for Williams to be able to take advantage of an opportunity to play saxophone for the Psychedelic Furs, a stint which led to him playing on the two highest-charting albums of the band's career in the US: 1984's Mirror Moves (#43) and 1987's Midnight to Midnight (#29).

Williams offered an explanation as to how he found his way into the Furs in an interview with Penny Black Music.

"I went to see my friend Gary Windo - he played sax with them at the time - I saw [the Furs] backstage and we started talking," said Williams. "The next day I get a call that Gary couldn’t leave the country and get back in. 'Can you go to Australia with us?' I was, like, 'Yeah.' It was perfect. We had been recording. We had time off. We did shows with Gary. We went to the Sweetwater Festival in New Zealand in front of about 30,000 people. It was a good introduction to the Furs. We did one month in Australia. It was the best tour we ever had. We had so much fun. Gary said, 'Just make sure I get the gig back.' I told Gary, 'I still have to do the Waitresses.' After that tour, the Waitresses broke up. The Psychedelic Furs said in 1983, 'We don’t want Gary, we want you.'”

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Beyond the work with the Waitresses and the Psychedelic Furs, Williams played with a wide variety of other artists, contributing his sax to Billy Idol's "Catch My Fall," the Power Station's self-titled debut album, The Untouchables' Wild Child album, and Rubber Rodeo's Heartbreak Highway. Beyond the '80s, he would pop up in the most random of places, including songs by Latour ("Following You"), Billy Squier ("Stronger"), Ministry ("Cannibal Song"), Enuff Z'nuff ("I Won't Let You Go"), and Kesha's cover of T. Rex's "Children of the Revolution."

When not popping up on rock tracks, however, Williams indulged his jazz side, performing with Liquid Soul, Boneshaker, the NRG Ensemble, Hal Russell, Ken Vandermark, and Harrison Bankhead, among others. With Liquid Soul's 2000 album Here's the Deal, Williams was able to call himself a Grammy nominee, with the LP getting a nod for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

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In 2005, Williams found his way back into the Psychedelic Furs, not only recording on the band's most recent studio album, 2020's Made of Rain, but regularly touring with the band. Indeed, Williams remained part of the touring lineup of the band as recently as this year, staying on the road with them throughout this past summer's tour with Squeeze, but as was written in the Chicago Tribune on November 15, "The Furs tour sapped his energy; he returned home in a wheelchair, then spent a handful of days in the hospital."

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A GoFundMe page called "Help Mars Williams Beat Cancer" was organized by Dave Rempis and earned more than $100K for the cause. The unfortunate update on Williams was posted on the page yesterday.

Dear friends,

It's with great sadness that we send this message to let the many people who loved and supported Mars Williams know that he passed away earlier today after his year-long struggle with cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends, both in person and around the world, who held him close, and loved him dearly.

Until the end, Mars' inexhaustible humor and energy, and his love for music, pushed him forward. As it became clear in late summer that his treatment options were coming to an end, he chose to spend six weeks of the time he had left living as he had since he was a teenager - out on the road performing night after night. Those last performances with the Psychedelic Furs will live on with all of the other incredible contributions that Mars has made as a person, and as a musician, and that boundless energy will continue to inspire.

In order to offer further inspiration from his musical contributions, Q has compiled a playlist featuring a number of tracks which include the work of Mars Williams. We invite you to scroll down, press "play," and educate yourself on the amazing work Williams did during the course of his career.


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