LITTLE WILLIE JOHN: The Authorized Biography

Little Willie John

FEVER: Little Willie John’s Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul 

Author: Susan Whitall  Publisher: Titan Books

Armed with a lion-like voice and sparkling personality Little Willie John was one of the most popular entertainers during the 1950’s and 60’s. Songs like “All Around The World”, “Fever”, and “Talk To Me” all made it to the top of the R&B charts and became the blueprint for what would later be called “Soul Music”. He consistently filled concert halls throughout his career always delivering an electric stage show that left audiences wanting more. On the road more often then not Willie lived his life fast and hard. He regularly stayed out until the wee-hours of the morning drinking and socializing.  One night after a show in Seattle, Washington while he was drinking at an after-hours club Willie was involved in an altercation that ended with him stabbing a man. Willie ended up being charged with manslaughter and was sent away to the Washington State Penitentiary where he died on May 26 1968 at the age of 30. Although the cause of his death is listed as “Heart Attack”, there are questions about the care he was given while incarcerated.  However it happened, it’s a sad but true fact that Little Willie John left this world too soon.

In her book FEVER: Little Willie John, A Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul, author Susan Whitall gives us a detailed and in-dept look at the life of one of music’s greatest voices. Written with the help of Willie John’s son Kevin and filled with interviews from those who knew Willie John this book is essential for anyone interested in the history of Soul music.

Essential listening  Little Willie John: Complete Hit Single’s A’s & B’s

Little Willie John

 

 

RESPECT YOURSELF: The Story of STAX Records

STAX

RESPECT YOURSELF: THE STORY OF STAX RECORDS Bloomsbury USA

Author Robert Gordon has been writing about the music of Memphis for almost 30 years. In Respect Yourself: The Story of STAX Records Mr. Gordon not only tells the story of STAX but also the story of the Civil Rights movement in Memphis.  Passionately written and meticulously researched this book takes you from the label’s meager beginnings in a garage outside Memphis to it’s bankruptcy in 1975.   Along with Mr. Gordon’s narration you hear from the people that made STAX happen, making this book one of a kind.

A LITTLE STAX HISTORY…

Started by Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton in 1957, STAX Records was more then just a record label.  It was a voice in the community.  The label’s open door policy made it possible for anyone to come in off the street and set up an audition. It didn’t matter where you were from or what the color of your skin was, you were welcomed at STAX as long as you had a passion for music.

Right from the beginning STAX did things it’s own way. Segregation may have been alive and well in Memphis during the 1960’s, but that didn’t stop STAX founder Jim Stewart from hiring an African American DJ named Al Bell to be his lead promotions man.  Working together side by side Jim, Estelle, and Al turned STAX records from a little indie label into a household name!  STAX artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MG’s, Carla Thomas, and William Bell put the label on the map with singles that started appearing on the R&B and Pop charts.  Money was coming in and things were really rolling, until one very dark December day in 1967…

Today many people can remember exactly where they were when they learned that the plane carrying Otis Redding and The Bar-Keys went down. Otis was the soul of STAX and the voice of soul music.  A few months later while the people of STAX were still grieving over the loss of Otis and the Bar Keys their world was rocked again.  On the evening of April 4, 1968  Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  Needless to say, after the assassination of Dr. King everything was different, especially in Memphis.  If all this wasn’t enough,  the label’s distributor Atlantic Records ended it’s relationship with STAX.  With it’s biggest star gone and no way to get music to the stores most label’s would have called it a day, but most labels didn’t have Al Bell.  It was then that Al and the folks at STAX hunkered down and staged one of the biggest comebacks in music history.

The early 70’s found STAX again at the top of the Soul music world. This time around STAX would reach heights that were even greater then it did in the 1960’s.  Al Bell gained full control of the label and STAX rode the success of artists like Isaac Hayes, The Emotions, Johnnie Taylor, and The Staple Singers all the way to the top of the charts.  Sadly this rebirth would be short lived as some questionable business decisions and over expatiation lead to STAX eventually having to declaring bankruptcy in 1975.

 

BUDDY GUY “WHEN I LEFT HOME”

 

A few years ago while I was doing a blues gig in San Francisco and I got into a conversation with another musician about great Blues guitar players.  “It’s a shame there aren’t any great blues players left” he said.  “That’s not true” I replied, “There are still some of the greats left. B.B. is still around and of course you have Buddy Guy”.  The musician gave me a strange look and said “What?! Why do you like Buddy Guy?  I saw him once and he just played a bunch of Hendrix riffs”.  All I could do at that point was chuckle and reply, “Yeah, well where do you think Hendrix, got some of those ideas from?   Jimi was a student of the Blues and listened to all the blues records he could get his hands on.  The guitar player on many of these records was Buddy Guy. ”

Buddy Guy’s guitar playing has inspired guitar players in every genre of music for over fifty years. Always an exciting live act Buddy,  has taken his exciting brand of electric blues all all over the world.  He’s shared the stage with blues legends like Muddy Waters and rockers like The Rolling Stones.  He’s headlined countless festivals, performed on television and even performed for Presidents and Royalty.  That being said his impressive career isn’t limited just to the stage.  During the 1960’s Buddy was  an in-demand studio musician for Chess records and played lead guitar on many hits by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Koko Taylor.  In short, Buddy Guy has lived enough in his 76 years for three lifetimes, and lucky for us he’s decided to tell his story.

In “When I Left Home” Buddy (with help from David Ritz) takes us from the farm he grew up on in Louisiana to the streets of Chicago.   A master storyteller, Buddy doesn’t hold back when talking about the ups and downs of life as a blues man. With a mother in need of extra medical attention after suffering a stroke, he left Louisiana for Chicago in search work that would able him to not only support himself but also send money back home to Louisiana.  Already proficient on guitar from playing around clubs in Louisiana, Buddy worked himself into the Chicago scene with the help of some local blues fans and eventually with help from the great Muddy Waters.  One would think that this would be the ending of our story, but this is only the beginning.  Over the next several years Buddy works hard to establish himself as one of the premier Blues guitar players on the Chicago scene.  Working as a tow-truck driver in the day, playing clubs and doing recording sessions at night he found himself working night and day to make his dream happen and take care of his family.  “When I Left Home” is the no-nonsense story of George “Buddy” Guy, and like it’s author, this story is THE REAL DEAL.

 

Not familiar with the music of Buddy Guy? Here are some albums I think you might enjoy. There are also many single recordings featuring Buddy, more information on these recordings and the albums listed below can be found in the back of the book “When I Left Home”.

Artist/Album

BUDDY GUY ALBUMS

“Buddy’s Blues” (Best of his Chess recordings)

“A Man and The Blues”

“Buddy and The Junior’s” (Buddy Guy with Junior Wells and Junior Mance)

“Damn Right I Got The Blues”

“Sweet Tea”

“Blues Singer”

“Can’t Quit The Blues” (Box Set)

RECORDS FEATURING BUDDY GUY

JUNIOR WELLS “Hoodoo Man Blues”

MUDDY WATERS “Folk Singer”

Preachin’ The Blues: The Life and Times of Son House

Preachin’ The Blues: The Life and Times of Son House

Written by historian Daniel Beaumont, Preachin’ The Blues: The Life and Times of Son House provides a well researched, in-depth look at the life of one of the most important figures in Blues history – Eddie “Son” House. Born in 1902 in Lyon, Mississippi, Son House grew up very involved in the church and didn’t embrace the Blues until 1927 when he heard a guitar player at a house party. Moved by the sound this guitar player was getting out of his instrument with the use of a bottleneck slide, House decided to pick up the guitar and start playing the Blues. Starting out by performing at parties, Son House grabbed the attention of those in attendance with his larger-than-life voice and commanding guitar strumming style.  It was performances like this in the 1930’s that would inspire and help shape the playing style of both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Even now the music of Son House is still inspiring musicians.  Artists such as The Black Keys and The White Strips both cite Son House as a major influence on their careers. But Preachin’ The Blues doesn’t just focus on Son House the musician. Son was many things in his life – a preacher, a farmer, a husband, even a murderer. Needless to say, his complex life gave him much subject matter to sing about.
While many books on the History of the Delta Blues include information on Son House, there really hasn’t been a book that dives this deep into his individual story. One of the main reasons for this is probably because large sections of House’s life are a complete mystery. Only one copy of the first recordings Son House made for the Paramount Record label in 1930 has ever been found. Even interviews that House himself gave after being rediscovered by three college-age blues fans in the early 60’s were sometimes hard to decipher. During these interviews House would occasionally mix up dates and times from his own life. Taking all of these factors into account, it isn’t a surprise that the name Son House isn’t really know beyond serious music fans. Hopefully, this book will change that.

Essential Reading: “Delta Blues” By Ted Gioia

The book “Delta Blues” by Ted Gioia is by far the most comprehensive book available on the subject of the delta blues.  This is a great book for new and veteran blues listeners.   This information in this book is well researched and presented clearly.  I consider this to be ”the bible” of books on the blues.   This book not only talks about the history of African American folk music but also about the day to day life of African Americans living in Mississippi during the first half of the 20th century.  The book starts “where the southern crosses the dog” and follows the blues all the way to Chicago and then back home to the hills of Mississippi.  This is essential reading for blues lovers or anyone who wants to hear one of the most amazing stories in American history.