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Off the Raider Field, It's Just Sing, Baby, for Henry Lawrence

September 01, 1985|TOM LaMARRE | Times Staff Writer

The Raiders, the team that brought you Carl Weathers, have another budding entertainer--Henry Lawrence.

Weathers, who acted in a Berkeley theater group while he was a reserve linebacker for the Oakland Raiders in 1971 and 1972, went on to play a bigger role in Hollywood--Apollo Creed in the "Rocky" movies.

Lawrence, who studied drama at Florida A&M, has appeared in commercials and bit movie parts, but his real interest is singing. In fact, he performed 45-minute shows recently at the Lobster Trap in Channel Islands Harbor, and at the Wedgewood Inn near the Raider training camp in Oxnard.

The day after his first performance, while doing an interview and signing autographs by the swimming pool at his Oxnard hotel, Lawrence was approached by a woman who said: "I hear you were really good last night."

Asked Lawrence: "Why weren't you there?"

The woman confessed: "I had tickets to see Jimmy Buffett."

OK, so Lawrence may not have that box-office appeal yet, but he's been doing his lounge act for several years. He and All-Pro punter Ray Guy--who specializes in country and western ballads--used to entertain fans after Raider games at Clancy's, an Oakland nightspot. In the off-season, Lawrence performed with bands at other East Bay clubs.

Since the Raiders moved south three years ago, he has had gigs at L.A. nightspots such as Marbles, Marla Gibbs' Memory Lane and the Pied Piper.

The 6-4, 270-pound All-Pro tackle also recorded a record single. The feature side was "Do It (Don't Talk About It)," with "Life Is Just a Game" on the flipside.

"We sold a few, but I really didn't pursue it from that angle," Lawrence said. "It could have been marketed better. I got in with some bad people. I think their intentions were somewhat shady.

"I haven't done enough to compare myself with anyone, but I'll do almost anything. I used to do Teddy Pendergrass almost exclusively, but now I do stuff by Jerry Butler, Otis Redding, Luther Vandross. I like ballads. Jeffrey Osborne. I love the way Lionel Richie sings, and Kenny Rogers. Even Willie Nelson. I can do upbeat songs, too."

Lawrence's talents aren't restricted to singing. He has done commercials for Leo's Stereo, Coca-Cola and Renault, and has had some bit parts in the movies.

In fact, he has a small role in the Home Box Office series "First and Ten," which is being shown on the pay-TV network this month. In one scene, Lawrence sings the old gospel tune "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," a cappella.

"It was an eye-opening experience," Lawrence said of the off-season work. "It gave me a great deal more respect for the industry--the actors and directors.

"When you sit down and watch a movie, you see the finished product. You don't see what they went through to make it. You wait to do a scene and it might be freezing cold. Then you film the scene, and even if it's good, you do it again and again. It's a little like football. You watch a game, but you don't see what the players went through to get that far.

"People know that actors and athletes make a lot of money, but they don't realize all that it takes. It's a job most people would like to have, but it's not all rosy."

Movies are a new scene to Lawrence, but he knows what it's like to be a leading man in the theater. It was a bit off-Broadway, however, in Tallahassee, Fla.

That was in his days at Florida A&M, when he was active in the school's Playmakers Guild.

"I was one of the male leads in a play called 'Who Killed Aunt Caroline?' " Lawrence said. "Then there was 'The G-Man,' and I was the G-Man. I played an Uncle Tom high school principal in 'A Medal for Willie.' I had some serious, stiff-collar roles and I did some comedy, too. I feel comfortable with both."

When Weathers was with the Raiders, Coach John Madden went to see him play the lead in "Othello" and reportedly told him afterward to pursue his second career because the coach felt he wasn't tough enough to be an outstanding pro football player.

Lawrence knows the feeling.

"I heard that all the time, too, when I was growing up," Lawrence said. "In fact I still hear it around here once in a while.

"When I was a junior in college, we were getting ready to play Tampa and everyone was talking about John Matuszak. He was 6-8 and about 290, and I had to go up against him. He was supposed to be All-World, and I guess I was supposed to be shaking. It made me mad hearing so much about him, so I just went out and blocked him. He was averaging something like 12 tackles a game but he got maybe four against us and he had to run all the way across the field to get those."

It seems the bigger they are, the better Lawrence plays. That's how the Raiders found him. "Killer," a nickname he picked up in school for supposedly being a lady killer, was at the Senior Bowl in 1973 when everybody was watching 6-9 defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones. While pro scouts were taking notes on Jones during practice, Al Davis noticed the guy on the other side of the line was actually blocking Too Tall.

The Raiders made Lawrence their No. 1 draft choice, and he has played in three Super Bowl victories in 11 seasons. He has continued in the Jim Otto-Art Shell-Gene Upshaw tradition by playing in 127 consecutive games, but recognition was slow to come until he made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons and Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team in 1981.

At 33, it's only natural that he's starting to look at alternative careers.

"I always loved music," Lawrence said. "I started playing the piano and the flute when I was in junior high, but I got wrapped up in football. I learned the chords on a guitar. I want to get back into it and tunnel into what I'm doing. I've been taking voice training from a guy in L.A. called The Doctor, Seth Riggs. He supposed to be one of the best. My singing has worked out pretty well so far, but the potential is unlimited.

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