sun 16/06/2024

Fever: Little Willie John and the Birth of Soul | reviews, news & interviews

Fever: Little Willie John and the Birth of Soul

Fever: Little Willie John and the Birth of Soul

Biographer aims to restore the memory of a hugely influential singer

Soul man Little Willie John died early but, as a new biography argues, his influence lives on

Because Little Willie John died a lonely death in a Washington state prison cell in 1968, much of the baby boom generation grew up only half-knowing who he was. You’d occasionally hear that effervescent but distant voice on the radio, buried by overdubbed strings on the 1960 pop hit “Sleep”. Or maybe you’d hear a snippet of his lovestruck tenor on the torchy 1958 ballad “Talk to Me, Talk to Me”, played as an oldie on the radio. Even by the early Sixties, less than a decade after he hit big as a teenager in 1955 with the R'n'B classic “All Around the World”, Willie’s status as one of the top male R'n'B stars had been eclipsed by his acolyte, James Brown, thanks to JB’s brilliant 1963 album Live at the Apollo.

Because Little Willie John died a lonely death in a Washington state prison cell in 1968, much of the baby boom generation grew up only half-knowing who he was. You’d occasionally hear that effervescent but distant voice on the radio, buried by overdubbed strings on the 1960 pop hit “Sleep”. Or maybe you’d hear a snippet of his lovestruck tenor on the torchy 1958 ballad “Talk to Me, Talk to Me”, played as an oldie on the radio. Even by the early Sixties, less than a decade after he hit big as a teenager in 1955 with the R'n'B classic “All Around the World”, Willie’s status as one of the top male R'n'B stars had been eclipsed by his acolyte, James Brown, thanks to JB’s brilliant 1963 album Live at the Apollo.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters