That Time Muhammad Ali Had A 'Court Musician'
Yeah, much like that guy who sung that earworm of a song in The Witcher, the famous boxer once had a musician called Michel (no last name) whom he sponsored and allowed into his inner circle of other famous people, only for him to basically follow Ali around and play music whenever he was asked to.
Born Robert Williams in Canada, Michel the musician decided somewhere during the ‘70s that he was going to get Ali to sponsor his career. At that point, Michel’s attempts to become a household name hadn’t worked out. His first EMI single tanked, and he moved from London back to Vancouver, where he kept busking and had a novelty song about a local brewery strike titled “Mama We Ain’t Got No Beer” hit Number 11 on the local charts. Clearly, things weren’t going the trajectory he wanted them to, so Michel came up with a plan to become associated with a famous person in order to help his career. And that famous person would be the greatest boxer in the world.
For a whole year, Michel bugged Ali’s office with correspondence, begging them to listen to his recordings. Realizing that it just wasn’t going to happen this way, Michel borrowed some money from a friend and went to Natchez, Mississippi, where Ali was recording the miniseries Freedom Road. According to Michel, he played Ali one single song, and before he even got to the chorus, the former boxer was pounding his fists and yelling about what a great song it was and how Ai had discovered him a star.
Ali instantly told Michel to come and stay with him, paying him $100 to do so and basically hiring the busker to play music for him and his posse whenever and wherever. As Michel himself explained:
“Ali always had people visiting him, African royalty in their robes and finery, the mayor of Jackson, the Vice President of the USA, and he’d say, ‘Well, hold on a minute, I’ve got something for you.’ And that something would be me. He was shaking hands with these people every day, and I realized after a while that he was tired of the role. If I could play them a song for five minutes, it let him relax in peace.”
So Michel became a bit of a distraction, but Ali was also totally and genuinely invested in the guy. Together, they came up with a TV show where they would recreate some of the two friends’ late-night fireplace chats about life, music, and philosophy. Accompanying their show would be an already recorded album with the bonkers title, Muhammad Ali Introduces Michel (First Flight Of The Gizzelda Dragon).
Although Ali claimed that the album would be a hit “because I say so,” he spent a helluva lot of money on the promotional campaign ... but apparently forgot to release the actual record they were telling people to go buy in every possible music shop. When Michel flew to London on his own measly dime to sort out the mess, he managed to lose the master tapes of the album when the squat he was staying in was torn down along with all his possessions inside.
Apparently, Michel was so ashamed at his own failure that he wrote Ali a letter apologizing for not fulfilling The Greatest’s prophecy of becoming the greatest himself and never spoke or heard from Ali again. However, it’d be years later that Michel would discover an old band member from that time had posted a video of that TV special on YouTube, along with a request that Michel get in touch. Turns out, some master tapes made it after all.
And even though their business venture was a failure, Michel gave Ali one of his self-proclaimed favorite songs:
Top Image: Wiki Commons