Saturday, September 10, 2011

Little Willie John Legendary Rhythm and Blues Recalled

Nothing is perfect and that includes the excellent new biography of Little Willie John, Fever: Little Willie John - A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul by Susan Whitall with Kevin John (2011: Titan Books). For Kevin John, publication of this book is a dream come true in helping restore his father as one of the major cornerstones of rhythm and blues, soul and rock who shaped countless other singers including Stevie Wonder who provided the introduction here.

Whitall, as seen by the collaboration with Little Willie John's son, has had access to many folk close to the great singer and performer and is able to take us to his young days in a loving home, to his triumphs as a young teenager at amateur contests in a city whose talent pool was deep. Johnny Otis recalls being at a show in Detroit where the talent was Willie, Jackie Wilson and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, all who would become major stars. And perhaps no star burned as brightly as Willie John.

While his voice might get a lil bit deeper as he went through puberty, John had one of the signature voices of 50s and 60s rhythm and blues. It had a light, airy feel, but able to convey a deep range of emotion. He could sing anything from ballads to blues. The recordings (and so many classics including All Around the World, Talk to Me, Leave My Kitten Alone, and Fever) certainly display his singular vocals, but it was matched with a marvelous stage presence.

We are taken to his tours and sessions (how he wasn't thrilled with Fever for example) and then the tragic latter years. He is still much loved by his fans and his family and this biography hopefully will generate new interest into this musical pioneer and legend. The book does lack an index which is a significant omission and a fuller list of bibliographical sources and resources would have been helpful. Fever: Little Willie John - A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul is a most welcome new addition to the popular music literature.

I purchased this book.

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