Little Willie John R.I.P. “Happy Birthday”

little_willie_john_91Little Willie John (November 15, 1937 – May 26, 1968) (died at 30) Best known for his hits “All Around the World” (1955), “Need Your Love So Bad” (1956) and “Fever” (1956), the latter covered in 1958 by Peggy Lee. An important figure in early R&B music, Little Willie John was a 1996 Inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Robbie Robertson, former lead guitarist for The Band, referenced John in a song on his 1987 self-titled album titled “Somewhere Down the Crazy River.” He was also referenced in Tom Russell’s “Blue Wing.” In 1991, the Swedish Artist Peter Le Marc recorded a song called “Little Willie John”.

Willie John was known for his short temper and propensity to abuse alcohol, and was dropped by his record company in 1963.  In 1966, he was convicted of manslaughter and sent to Washington State Penitentiary for a fatal knifing incident following a show in Seattle. He appealed his conviction and was released while the case was reconsidered, during which time he recorded what was intended to be his comeback album, but owing to contractual wrangling and the decline of his appeal, it was not released until 2008 (as Nineteen Sixty Six). Little Willie John died in 1968 at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. Despite counter claims (Rolling Stone had reported that the death occurred after John checked into the prison hospital with pneumonia), the official cause of death was listed in his death certificate as a heart attack.

Stevie Wonder was heavily influenced by Little Willie John and he says he hears him in Usher’s singing as well.

George Benson says the way approaches vocals was largely influence by Little Willie.

It’s important to note that Little Willie came before Motown.

Great Video on Little Willie John