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

 

 

FUNKY SOUL: THREE ESSENTIAL COLLECTIONS!

Funk and Soul music has always been a large part of my music collection.  My first exposure to Funk and Soul came through my High School band director Dr. Van Decker.  While most other school bands in the area did the marching band thing we played music by Herbie Hancock, James Brown, and Monk.   Inspired by the music we learned about in class, I would often head to Lou’s Record Shop after school and pick up albums so I could hear the original version of the song we were learning in class.  At first listen most of the grooves on these original recordings sounded simple but when you listened a little closer you could hear all the little nuances of the song that made it really move.  So, for those who want to get into what I call “Street Funk” here are three of my favorite compilations.

Play ’em loud and enjoy!

SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY: NEW ORLEANS FUNK AND SOUL 

Label: SOUL JAZZ RECORDS

This record from the good folks at SOUL JAZZ RECORDS is a great mix of funk, soul, and gospel from a group of artists that can only be described as New Orleans royalty.  Besides tracks from popular artists like Dr. John, Lee Dorsey, and Irma Thomas this album contains some great b-sides from lesser know musicians like Eddie Bo,  Eldridge Holmes, and Betty Harris. These artists created some of the most soulful funk to ever come out of New Orleans but unfortunately only achieved limited success nationally.  The stand out track for me on this record is “Pass The Hatchet” by Roger & The Gypsies.  This tune, produced by famed New Orleans musician Eddie Bo, became the first hit for the indie Seven-B label and is a perfect example of how a simple drum beat and a little melody can go a long way.  If I have one complaint about this release it’s that it is currently out of print and doesn’t seem to be on iTunes as of this posting (although some of the tracks are available on other releases).  I came across my copy a few years ago digging through the $1.99 used bin at a local record store.  Let this be a lesson to ALWAYS check the bargain bin when shopping for records.

 

 

THE FUNKY 16 CORNERS

Label: STONES THROW RECORDS

Released in 2001 by Stones Throw Records, The Funky 16 Corners  features a hefty helping of unreleased funky music recorded during the 60’s and 70’s.   All the tracks on this record are solid and the stories behind the music are just as moving as the music.  If you purchase this release on-line I highly suggest you check out www.stonesthrow.com to read the interviews with the artists that were collected during the formation of this disc.  For example, one of the groups featured on this disc is The Kashmere Stage band.  This was the school band for Kashmere High School in Houston Texas.  In the late 1960’s music director Conrad Johnson took the school’s struggling music program to a new level.  After introducing new arrangements and letting the kids inject some of their own style in the group The Kashmere Stage band started winning numerous awards and competitions.  They traveled all over the country breaking down barriers in many of the places they played (Kashmere H.S. was predominantly black and most of the school band competitions they entered were made up of all white groups). For more information on the story behind the Kashmere Stage Band check out the documentary film THUNDER SOUL.

 

 

Searching For Soul: Rare and Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz from Michigan  

Label: Luv N’ Haight/Ubiquity

The album Searching For Soul: Rare Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz from Michigan shows us that there is so much more to the Mid-West Soul scene then Motown.   Soul/Funk/Hip-Hop drummers, this record should be in your collection right next to your James Brown records.  All the grooves on this disc are slick and full of feel.  Robert Lowe’s tune “Back To Funk” is a classic. Filled to the brim with percussion and a tight saxophone solo this tune is Soul Jazz at it’s best.  As for straight-up Soul music, look no further then Dee Williams’ smooth and soulful voice on “(I Can) Deal With That”.  But the real story on this disc is hard FUNK!  Tracks by the Detroit Sex Machines and The Black Aces Of Soul & The Eyes Of Ebony are full of danceable breaks and greasy grooves, making this record essential to any fan of Funk music.

Although I am a big fan of the used bin,  things like this have a habit of going out of print without warning.  As of this posting you can still get this record most places. So don’t wait!  Pick up a copy today.  You’ll be glad you did.