On Little Willie John

It’s just possible that some of you out there aren’t fans of R&B music from the ’50s and early ’60s. I mean, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, but I admit the possibility that you aren’t.

And if not, you probably haven’t heard of Little Willie John.

Little Willie John is the great forgotten R&B singer. In terms of talent, he was right up there with Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and… well, maybe not quite James Brown and Ray Charles; let’s not get crazy. But he got thrown in jail and eventually died there, and over the years his fame shrank rather than grew.

His most famous songs are “All Around the World” and “Fever”, and he had other great ones like “Need Your Love So Bad” and “Leave My Kitten Alone”, but my favourite is one that was used in the Lone Star* soundtrack, “My Love Is.” I like it because it’s quiet and simple, but gives the impression of being inexorable and even a bit ominous.

Anyway, I was recently reading Susan Whitall’s biography* of John, and one of the things I learned from it is that, before he died, John recorded one last album worth of material which wasn’t released for legal reasons… but that it’s now available on CD. (Nineteen Sixty Six: The David Axelrod & HB Barnum Sessions.) I ordered it, received it today, and have listened to it. And it’s awesome.

Seriously. I would have gotten it just for the sake of completeness; after all, they aren’t making any more new Little Willie John music these days. I’m not surprised I like it, but I am surprised at how good it is, and how different from his other stuff. It’s less R&B and more… more soul or blues, or both, or something. I wonder what he would have sounded like if he had survived into the 1970s.

* Recommended.

2 thoughts on “On Little Willie John

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