Music Tonight by Little Willie John


How hard it was to get up and assemble a blog today. I woke at 4, to the melodious tune of the cat throwing up on the floor. He eats plastic. He’s not too bright. Then I woke at 5. Then every 10 minutes after that until I finally gave up around 9 this morning. A solid 8 hours! That’s all I ask for. The last 90 minutes were dreams of me being horribly late for the first day of a new job.

The day after I produce a decent blog is always the most difficult. A person would think it’s exactly the opposite–that the urge to write would be redoubled. I can always tell when something good was written. It’s a feeling I get, outside the realm of how many visitors I see on my site, or how many times a particular link was clicked. The words just feel right. The tone seems sound. My topics don’t leap like water droplets on hot grease.

This isn’t one of those posts.

*****

Little_Willie_John

Ever discover a “forgotten” musician who has a big impact on your listening, years after that person died?

I recently discovered Little Willie John. He dressed neat as a pin. Had a muscular, expressive tenor voice. He was also only about five feet tall.

“All Around the World” was his first hit. “If I don’t love you baby, grits ain’t groceries; eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man.”  This is NOT the Justin Bieber song or the Lisa Stansfield song by the same title, by the way. In 1956, it swung as well as just about any hit out there.

“Need Your Love So Bad” came the following year. I love this song. It amazes me that his name has essentially been forgotten by folks who would otherwise be familiar with their R&B and rock and roll history.

This song was immediately followed by “Fever”, right after he turned 18. The song was picked up the same year by Peggy Lee. It’s been covered by about a million people, including Elvis Presley, Madonna and Beyoncé. Here is the original. It makes me get why we were made to sing it in High School choir.

In 1959, he wrote and recorded “Leave My Kitten Alone,” complete with backup singers “meowing” the downbeat, and a snarling tomcat tenor sax solo. The Beatles were familiar with the song, recording and shelvin their own recording for the album Beatles for Sale. Their version remained unreleased until 1995.

Little Willie had quite a temper and drank hard. He was dropped by his label in 1963 after 17 singles in a six-year career. He continued on the circuit however, and toured for a few more years.

After a concert in 1966 John killed a man at a party in Seattle, Washington. According to the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “The man had apparently taken a chair from one of the women accompanying John. John confronted the man, who promptly punched him. In retaliation, John rose with a knife and stabbed the man.” He was sentenced to 8-20 years in the Washington State Penitentiary. Two years later, he died under mysterious circumstances, only 30 years old.

James Brown made a tribute album after his death called Thinking of Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things.

In 1996 ( 28 years after his death) he was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame.

If you haven’t heard him singing, or if you’ve only heard the Peggy Lee version of “Fever”, you have some listening to do.

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