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Fever: Little Willie John's Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul: The Authorized Biography Hardcover – June 21, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Titan Books; 1st ed edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857681370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857681379
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #930,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"(Four stars) Superb...a remarkable story that Whitall details with exceptional clarity." -- Mojo

"Whitall has filled what was a gaping hole in the Detroit music history books, and she's done so with style and soul." -- Brett Callwood, Detroit Metro Times

"...An account that is undeniably one of pop music's most enthralling stories. Highly recommended." -- Dave DiMartino, Yahoo! Music

"Deftly explores the mystery and tragedy of his life and death..." -- New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Best Music Books of 2011."

"As fast paced, enchanting and gritty as Willie John's own life and his meteroic climb to the top of the music charts. -- Bill Castanier, Lansing City Pulse

"A well-written biography of one of the greatest R&B singers to come out of Detroit." -- New York Amsterdam News

"Finally justice is served and Little Willie John gets his story told. Arguably one of the genre's greatest voices, this no frills account of his fast and fantastic life will enlighten those who are not familiar and thrill those who are." -- Bernie Taupin, "American Roots Radio," Sirius XM

"Fever is a reminder that some of the last century’s most beautiful, heartfelt, and danceable music was produced in the context of struggles against poverty, state-supported violence, racial segregation, and commercial exploitation." - Los Angeles Review of Books

"[An] essential and heartful book." - David Weiss

"Essential reading." - Musoscribe

"Fascinating..." - Philadelphia Tribune

"The most interesting music biography I've read this year, and maybe longer." - Woody Haut

From the Back Cover

"A long overdue and heartfelt, in-depth portrait of one of rhythm & blues' most tragically overlooked vocal stars. Susan Whitall once again reminds us why she is one of the most passionate and knowledgeable historical curators of Detroit music." --Allan Slutsky, author of "Standing in the Shadows of Motown."

"Little Willie John is the soul singer's soul singer." -- Marvin Gaye

"My mother told me, if you call yourself 'Little' Stevie Wonder, you'd better be as good as Little Willie John." -- Stevie Wonder

"Little Willie John was a soul singer before anyone thought to call it that." -- James Brown

"(Peggy) Lee was like an advertisement for sex: Willie John was the thing itself." -- Dave Marsh

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Kidd1970
This is a great book, it has a very intriguing story of his life and his family's life, and it is told in an interesting way by a talented author.
Rick Bostock
A soul music pioneer (before anybody called it soul music), John made great records with his keening, plaintive voice.
Victor A. Doucette

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Kim Field on June 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Anyone with an interest in American music should buy this book. Susan Whitall finally fills a huge gap in the history of popular music by giving us the first in-depth biography of one of America's greatest vocalists, and in the bargain provides a fascinating glimpse into the birth of rock and roll.

One could argue that the birth of jazz in the early 20th century and the incorporation of black church music and vocal stylings into pop music in the 1950s were the most influential and liberating developments in the long and fabled history of American music. Willie John burst onto the scene in 1955 as a hit-making 17-year-old with a huge, blues-drenched voice that belied his small frame and captivated anyone who came in contact with it. Willie John, Ray Charles, and Sam Cooke were the chief architects of what became known as "soul music"; they set the vocal and instrumental patterns upon which that style is rooted. Willie's popularity with the public was only exceeded by his profound influence. His contemporaries -- B.B. King, Joe Tex, Sam Cooke, Jimmy Scott, Johnny Otis, Levi Stubbs -- were his biggest fans, and his unique vocal approach left its mark on a generation of r&b singers, including James Brown (who idolized Willie), Aretha Franklin, Sam Moore, Dave Prater, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and George Benson, to name just a few.

Willie John, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, died tragically in prison at the age of 30. But he spent half of his short life touring and recording, and he left a rich legacy of stellar studio work, including a remarkable session for Capitol that was recorded while John was awaiting sentencing for a manslaughter conviction but wasn't released until recently.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James K. Power on July 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having been a lifelong Little Willie John fan since I first heard his songs on Philadelphia radio as a kid, I've always found it extremely difficult to find information on him beyond album liner notes and what little is written online. This book, the first ever written on Little Willie John despite his passing over 43 years ago, was long overdue! Susan Whitall does an astonishing job in presenting Willie John's humble beginnings, his rise to fame, and his tragic downfall.

Some of the more fascinating bits of information in this book include Willie John's importance as an on-stage performer whose dance moves influenced artists such as James Brown and Joe Tex (since no footage exists today of LWJ performing, I had no idea that was part of his legacy), his emulation of Frank Sinatra whose music he not only loved but even fashioned his look after, the artistic rivalry he had with Jackie Wilson & James Brown, a rift between him and Jimi Hendrix owing to a woman they both dated, how Elvis Presley was so awestruck by his recording of 'She Thinks I Still Care' that he framed LWJ's record and hung it on his wall in Graceland, his lifelong friendship with childhood pal Levi Stubbs who would later become the phenomenal lead vocalist with The Four Tops, and his mysterious, highly suspicious death in prison at the age of 30.

The book also does a masterful job in creating the climate of times that Willie came up in; the early 1950's, when on a given night in Detroit you could see and hear Clyde McPhatter performing with Billy Ward & The Dominoes, or Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers, or an amateur contest with "unknown artists" such as Little Willie John and Levi Stubbs.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By reuben jackson on June 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Far too many music bios fail to achieve a consistent mix of "fact" and what the kids used to call "flava." The end result? A boring read. This is not the case with "Fever." The reader is given an always compelling glimpse into the life and art of this great, great singer. This makes "Fever" hard to put down.(The literary equivalent of one of the singer's best titles) I purchased this morning, and completed my initial read about 40 minutes ago.. Yeah-as the expression goes, "It's like that." Little Willie John was one of the "brilliant brown voices of my youth" -to quote a line from a poem. He deserves nothing less than this balanced labor of love. Highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bob Berry on July 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Fever: Little Willie John's Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul" is an extraordinary, and extraordinarily well told story of a comet in the galaxy of R&B and Soul.

The stars are names we know: Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Solomon Burke, James Brown, Bettye LaVette, Joe Tex, Little Richard, Ruth Brown, Johnnie Taylor, Sam Moore, Etta James, Joe Hunter, Bobby Lewis and many more.

The comet-or shall I say "Comet", was Little Willie John. A name known to many-if only vaguely, for his seminal and definitive recording of "Fever"; his semi-obscure recordings for King Records, or for his induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

As the aforementioned stars themselves affirm, Little Willie John was not "just" a Comet. He was a literal Supernova, whose friendship they miss, and whose un-surpassed talent, energy and drive was a guiding light in their own paths to fame.

However, the true story of Little Willie John is by turns, more fascinating, more intricate and more complex than a recital of his hits, or his honors. His childhood friendships with Levi Stubbs-that continues with the enduring friendships of their respective widows. The fandom and friendship of a young Aretha Franklin, and her siblings. A rivalry of sorts with Berry Gordy, who pitched him songs-which Willie always turned down. The rich textures of black society, the exhilarating nights at the Apollo Theatre and the toughness of the chitlin' circuit. And more, so much more.
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