Andy “A-Dog” Williams, 38, passed away on December 26 following a yearlong battle with leukemia. Most locals knew A-Dog as the area’s preeminent turntablist, a phenomenally gifted DJ who was also successful beyond Vermont’s borders. He was a fixture in DJ booths around the state, his appearances ranging from holding weekly residencies at Red Square in Burlington to rocking massive parties with nationally touring DJs for the likes of Burton Snowboards and Gravis.
Besides being a mainstay of the music scene, Williams was one of Burlington’s most beloved sons, as evidenced by the candlelight walk and vigil held in his honor a few days after his passing. More than 1,000 people turned out on that chilly December night to celebrate his life.
The procession began on the top block of Church Street and meandered down Main Street. It held up traffic as people from all walks of BTV life, most clutching flickering candles, made their way to the waterfront skate park, one of Williams’ haunts. There, participants shared stories and laughter and tears. (For more on the vigil, turn to this week’s Soundbites column.)
As an artist, a performer and, most importantly, a friend, Williams made an impact on Burlington that few can claim. How many of us will ever have, by proclamation of the mayor, our own day of tribute? Williams will, on August 30, 2014.
To celebrate his short but brilliant life, Seven Days reached out to some of those lucky enough to have called Williams a friend. What follow are their remembrances. (See also his obituary.)
Rest in peace, A-Dog.
Thousands of memories flow through my mind when I reflect upon my beloved moments with Andy Williams. It seems almost impossible for me to narrow them all down to one. He was and always will be one of the most important people with whom I had the humble honor to cross paths. Andy was more than a friend; he was a brother to me. We would call each other that almost every time we spoke, but we did not use the term in a casual way. We both meant it and saw each other as family.
Strength, love, empathy, courage, honor and humility were some of Andy’s greatest strengths. So much I have learned from my brother. So much so many have learned from Andy. His existence shall resonate and echo into eternity.
Andy Foehsel, friend
I first met Andy in 1995. We ran in the same skateboard circle. But it wasn’t until he worked for me at the B-Side that I really got to know him. What was it about A-Dog? I was often baffled by his super easygoing, chill personality. I was always zooming around, always in a hurry. He moved slowly but with purpose. The longer we had together, the more deeply we understood each other, and the more deeply we bonded and connected. Our talks were about life, money, dreams, his mama. He always took care of his mama. As time passed and his outreach grew, Andy started getting invites to travel and DJ more and more gigs. He needed to fly, and I wasn’t going to clip his wings. I made sure he could attend all of them!
I watched people fall in love with him, and he with them. I would tell him, “Andy, you got it.” He would ask me, “What’s it?” I would smile at him and say, “I don’t know what it is, but you’ve got it.” I probably told him that same line a million times. I still don’t know what it is, but I know he has it.
I also knew that everybody wanted a piece. He seemed to know everyone, like he had had a personal experience with everyone who came into his sphere. He was always talking, asking questions. And, man, did he have so much style.
We got a call from our web designers — way back, like 1995 or ’96 — about this new technology called Flash. They wanted to try it on our site and asked me for a recommendation of an action shot they could film. I knew A-Dog’s ollies were the most beautiful ones I had ever seen. I remember watching them film him in the parking lot on Cherry Street. He brought it. His outfit was coordinated, his moves were sick and he held his body in a manner that made you keep an eye on him at all times. He was a natural. A star.
As life went on we both had bumps in the road, but we were always there for each other without hesitation. Even when he was in fight mode against cancer, he listened and supported me in my battles and mishegas. He always had time for the people he loved and for everyone in his path. Oh, that feeling — the feeling you got when you walked in the club and made eye contact with him in the DJ booth. His eyes, his smile, his radiant love. No one lucky enough to have felt it will ever forget it.
Hannah Deene, Talent SkatePark
I was blessed to be friends with Andy Williams for almost 20 years. When I consider just how long that actually is, I feel so lucky. Because 20 years is a very long time to learn from someone as caring, compassionate and giving as Andy was.
Andy and I shared a bond over our mutual love of music. The sessions we spent just playing records and talking about which soul record bore the sample from that Tribe Called Quest or Rakim song simultaneously seem like centuries and minutes ago. Andy’s ability to make a person feel his love of life was his gift, yet he made it feel as though it was somehow ours for having the chance to experience it with him. Whether you knew Andy by a smile he flashed to you while skating by you on Bank Street, or if you were as lucky as I to share decades with him, it all seemed the same in the end. He made it seem you were special, you mattered.
Andy’s talents as a DJ were world-class. And that is not just the opinion of me, a hip-hop lifer from the Green Mountains, but from other world-class talents such as Z-Trip and Rob Swift. As I spoke with legends such as these who came through our little state, they expressed their awe with his technique, rhythm and knowledge as a turntablist.
I spent many hours telling Andy that if he had an agent and the right connections, he could easily be on tour with a major hip-hop act. He did what Andy always did: laughed, agreed and packed his crates for Red Square. He liked the fact that he was able to rock for his homies every week here. He appreciated it. And us. But his talents as a turntable artist paled in comparison to his abilities as a first-rate human being.
My best example of how caring and unselfish Andy was happened a little less than a year ago. A few months after he had been diagnosed, a gang of us local friends, dubbed Friends for A-Dog, threw a fundraising event to help support Andy’s fight. We raised a significant amount of money to help him out and were all very proud. He watched from his hospital room, as we had a direct feed of the night sent to his bedside, and we shared tears of joy through texts. A few weeks later, my mom unexpectedly passed away in her sleep. I was devastated and lost, but found solace in a phone call from a hospital room in Boston — it was Andy. Even with all he was going through, he found a way to call me and ask how I was holding up.
I will live the rest of my life in honor of how he lived his: by being selfless, caring, giving, loving, joyful, appreciative, positive. A true friend.
This was Andy Williams. My dog.
Kyle Thompson, aka Fattie B., DJ, artist, music junkie, friend
A-Dog, the entertainer. Not only onstage playing those records, but any time you hung out at his house, went skateboarding or traveling, [he was] always making you laugh or discover something new he was into. But on the same hand, you were entertaining him, with your personality, your antics and your own discoveries. It was a two-way street with Andy, equal-equal all the time.
The A-Dog mixtapes. Talk about dedication in promoting his work and entertaining the masses! You could count on a new A-Dog mixtape every two months, with an original collage on the cover, track listing, digital download and the whole nine. If you break it down, he’s probably one of the most “listened to” DJs on the planet over the last decade. It’s crazy how many mixes he put out!
In skateboarding and snowboarding, style plays a really big role, so you tend to gravitate toward the riders who are really good and do it with style. Andy had both of these on lock while riding a board, but his DJ style was on point. You always tried to get near the DJ booth when he was playing, so you could see the master at work!
Dean Blotto Gray, photographer, Burton Snowboards
I met Andy in Burlington in 1994 while skateboarding by the mall on Cherry Street. Andy was with his St. Albans crew — Mike Day and Mark Wood. They all must have been 16 or 17 years old. Old enough to drive to Burlington to skateboard for the day. I could tell right away that these guys were having a “coming-of-age moment,” especially Andy — his eyes were about to pop out of his head. After our session we invited them back to our apartment on North Willard Street. Our apartment was covered with skateboards, snowboards, boots, goggles, etc. I pulled out a shoebox filled with skate and snowboard stickers and said, “Have at it.” This is where I’m sure his sticker obsession came from, because he was like a kid in a candy store. He left with, like, a hundred stickers.
Months later, that same crew moved to Burlington to be closer to the skate, snow, party and DJ culture. At this point Andy was not a DJ yet. He worked at the Sheraton and T.J. Maxx. He skated to and from work. He saved and saved and hustled to afford one turntable — that was plugged into a tape deck. This is where he began to experiment with mixing and making mixtapes for his friends. Later, he would buy a mixer and the second turntable.
He then lands his dream job working at the B-Side, surrounding himself in action-sport culture. Skating, snowboarding and DJing the infamous basement parties. At this point he’s not yet spinning at local clubs.
Now it’s summer 1996, and the movie Friday is super popular with all of us — we recited it line for line constantly for months. The only VHS tapes we owned were skate videos and Friday. One day I’m in the B-Side and shouting out lines from the movie to various friends. “What up, dog?” to somebody. “What up, dog?” to another person. I see Andy behind the counter, and his name begins with an “A.”
“What up, A-Dog?”
Everybody always wanted to be around Andy because he always had a huge smile and was happy to see you. He was always genuine and wanted to hear how things were going with you. We spent a lot of time together and always gave each other support with our careers and loved to share each other’s successes.
We kept in contact every week during his battle via text message, and he was completely positive and inspiring the entire time.
Seth Neary, creative director, Driven Studio, snowboarder
It’s hard for me to remember exactly when I first started hanging with Andy. I used to be a DJ on WRUV from the early to late 1990s. This was before the internet, social media and in the early days before a lot of local venues would even have a hip-hop DJ. Checking out a DJ live was mostly done at house parties. It was literally an underground movement reserved to basement and house parties. Skating and snowboarding were treated sort of the same way. That’s what made it so cool. Being so far away from major cities, we somehow figured it out and did it ourselves.
I think it was at one of those basement parties that I first met Andy. He was a little younger than me, and I had been DJing for a long time by the time he first started. But I could tell he was definitely the one to watch from the new kids. He was, from the very beginning, one of the most technical DJs anywhere. On a personal note, being a minority here in VT, you sort of notice other minorities doing the same thing as you, and maybe that was one of the things that brought us together in the beginning.
Over the years, we stayed connected. I moved out west for a while and moved back to town a little over five years ago. My first gig back was with DJ ZJ and Andy. Andy was one of the ones who encouraged me to get back into it. He was, however, without a doubt, the best DJ in town. From a technical standpoint, his music knowledge, the fact that he’d make his own music, edits, etc. He knew how to read a crowd and always get it rocking. He knew how to stoke that guy with the underground request but also keep the girls hyped on whatever new pop happened to be, well, popping.
When I got the news that he was sick, I kind of went into crisis-management mode and connected with Fattie B. to see what we could do to help. A few days after Christmas, a bunch of local DJs met up at Starbucks and talked about hosting a few fundraising events. Friends for A-Dog came out of that meeting. We organized, broke into smaller groups focused on various parts, and essentially went into “Help Andy and Josie [Sourdiffe, Andy’s girlfriend] out right now” mode.
That show at Higher Ground with DJ Z-Trip was gigantic. Z-Trip had performed on the Grammys the night before, then hopped on a flight and came over here for Andy the next day. He put his heart into that show, and Andy was watching via live stream, texting back and forth. It was amazing how many people came out. That was the first time I was able to see how much he had affected so many different people. All types of Burlingtonians came out, including the mayor. Although he did not personally know Andy, Mayor Weinberger was so proud of his city for coming together to support one of its own.
A couple of days before Andy passed, I reached out to Mayor Weinberger to let him know that Andy’s health had turned for the worse. The mayor was out west on holiday with his family and sent his condolences. A couple of days later, our friend Dave Driscoll reached out to a few of us and said that he and his sister had contacted the mayor’s office and that it had approved establishing an A-Dog Day. There was a very short window of time to draft the proclamation — basically an hour. I pulled over and had my wife drive; I prayed for the words to best describe my friend. Forty-five minutes later, I sent that copy in. An hour later a proclamation came back to me.
The next morning I went to pick up the physical copy and was told that the mayor wanted me to read it to the city on his behalf at the vigil for Andy on Church Street. That was a big honor for me. This is my hometown. Andy was one of my good friends, and we were going to send him off like the king he was.
The vigil was an amazing experience. We came together in love to celebrate his legacy, and it was one of the most special nights this town has ever known. It was the best party I’ve been to here in the Queen City, the night we sent her king home.
Luis Calderin, Burton Snowboards, DJ
I first met Andy Williams, later known as Chico and eventually as the infamous A-Dog, when he moved from New Jersey to St. Albans in third grade. We grew up a few blocks from one another. In our childhood, we connected through fierce breakdancing sessions, BMX and freestyle biking, listening to UTFO and the Sugarhill Gang, rocking the finest parachute pants we could find. We formed a group called the “BMX Breakers” and were selected to teach the kindergarten students at City Elementary our craft. This is where our earliest pops, locks, windmills and backspins were dialed in, hauling around the O.G. boom box.
As we grew up, phases changed from bikes to skateboards, metal to hip hop. Andy picked up his first musical instrument, the electric guitar. He, of course, taught himself and was very good. We transformed from kids to teenagers, taking renegade trips to the B-Side in Burlington, partying in fields with friends. We made skate videos with the high school’s AV equipment. Those years were fun, positive and full of exploring.
Andy was a good student and graduated in 1993. I joined the Army at age 17 and Andy saw me off, assuring me everything was going to be OK, as he always did. Four years later, I was reunited with him in Burlington. While living in South Korea, I became interested in DJing. Andy took me to FLEX Records and introduced me to Rhett & Iceman. He helped me buy my first pair of turntables and showed me the art of the mix.
We spent the rest of our adult years together connecting through music and DJ culture. I will be forever grateful for Andy Williams, DJ A-Dog. He taught positivity, kindness and patience and he was ultra-giving. He was the best friend anyone could ever have or want. I am extremely happy to have had him in my life for 28 years. I will carry a piece of him in my heart forever. I love you, Andy.
Justin Remillard, aka Justin R.E.M., Nexus Artists
I was very fortunate to have spent my younger years as one of Andy’s best friends. I met him around 1985 at St. Albans City School, where he was hustling BMX handlebar plates made out of construction paper. Of course, I bought one at a better rate than most of the other kids.
I think we ended up making a connection because we both came from single-mother families that always tried their best to give us what they could from what little they had. We started riding freestyle bikes together and staying up late at sleepovers, waiting for “Headbangers Ball” to come on MTV. His love for music and art was something he always had.
Then one of our other best friends came into the picture, Bill Dupree, bearing skateboards and hip-hop tapes. From that day on, the bikes and the metal music were put aside.
Soon after, my mother passed away from cancer. And there was no other place I wanted to be but with Andy. His mother took me in with open arms, despite their financial situation. Some of my best memories are late-night sessions with friends in our room, Andy entertaining with two cassette decks and one turntable. We were the type of people who looked up to others and wouldn’t give up until we were equals or passed them by.
My stories, just like those of his million other friends, could go on forever. He was just that kind of person. Everyone has a story to tell about him. Andy “DJ A-Dog” Williams will be missed and never forgotten. He was a true legend.
Dennis Rathburn, childhood friend
DJ A-Dog (aka Andy Williams aka Wizzle) was my brother and business partner. We are complete opposites so we complemented each other well, whether rocking on stage or as friends in life. We were "the yin and yang styleee" as he would say. Together, with Dakota Burr, we built two amazing Vermont entertainment entities in VT Union and the 4Word Movement — the latter of which he named — that continue to grow and will remember A-Dogs name eternally. The Earth lost not only an amazing DJ/artist/skateboarder, we lost a genuine, beautiful, unselfish human being who always gave without expecting to get. I'll always miss him and his name will forever stay in my conversation. 4word! Love Love, Wizzle!
Nastee, rapper, producer, VT Union, 4Word Movement
The original print version of this article was headlined "His Beat Goes On"
A-Dog at Higher Ground in 2012. Photo courtesy of Dean "Blotto" Gray"