- 21 Nov 23
According to the Chicago Tribune, Psychedelic Furs and The Waitresses' Saxophonist Mars Williams passed away yesterday from ampullary cancer after being diagnosed last year.
Tributes have poured in on social media expressing grief. William's own band The Psychedelic furs shared a post on X which read 'we're heart broken'.
Goodbye to the great Mars Williams.
Rest well. 1955 - 2023. pic.twitter.com/tuCALIQOv2
— The Psychedelic Furs (@pfurs) November 21, 2023
Born in Evanston, Illinois, an affluent suburb of Chicago, in 1955, Williams grew up surrounded by jazz. His father played trumpet for pick-up bands by Gene Kruppa and Tommy Dorsey.
Williams was a fan of swing music, particularly the work of Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and Charlie Parker. He trained as a classical clarinetist for 10 years before switching to saxophone during his final year in high school. He attended DePaul University before taking classes from Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
In 1980, Williams joined the Waitresses, contributing to the Ohio new wave band’s debut album Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? and the follow-up Bruiseology. He earned his first Billboard hit in the shape of “I Know What Boys Like,” which peaked at No. 62 on the Hot 100 chart.
Williams’ most recognisable saxophone hook, can be found on The Waitresses’ 1981 single “Christmas Wrapping", which can be heard annually in the Christmas lead up.
Mars Williams was only to tour with The Furs in Australia for a month in 1983 as a temporary replacement for touring saxophonist Gary Windo, who was unable to make the trip. However, following a successful tour with The Furs and the concomitant breakup of The Waitresses, he stayed on as a permanent member of the former group until 1989. Mars rejoined the post punk group in 2005 and played with them until death.
Former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist, Roger O'Donnell (who is also known for his work with The Cure and the Thompson Twins) shared a heartfelt post on X saying Williams was "truly a one of a kind musician and person".
Probably wont make any headlines but it should for he was a truly one of a kind musician and person. Mars Williams who I played with for one very long year in the Eighties with The Psychedelic Furs is gone... X Love you Mars
— Roger O'Donnell (@RogerODonnellX) November 21, 2023
In 1993, Williams co-founded the acid jazz ensemble Liquid Soul with guitarist Tommy Klein and DJ Jesse De La Peña. Liquid Soul six albums in all, with their third, 2000’s Here’s the Deal, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. In spite of their experimental style Liquid Soul gained popularity, performing at Chicago Bull's Dennis Rodman’s notorious parties and even going on to play at Bill Clinton’s second presidential inauguration.
Williams was active in the Chicago improvisational jazz underground scene both individually and as a member of the quartet Extraordinary Popular Delusions.
On November 25, Williams is set to be honoured with a benefit show titled: Music for Mars. Taking place at Chicago’s Metro, the gig will feature performances from Liquid Soul, the Joe Marcinek Band, and Jesse De La Peña, with special appearances from Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler, Zachary Alford, and Rich Good; Dave Matthews Band’s Jeff Coffin; Guns N’ Roses’ Richard Fortus; and Ike Reilly.