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Fever: Little Willie John: A Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul Hardcover – June 21, 2011
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"(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
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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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.
I've had the great fortune to speak to Willie's son, Kevin, several times over the past few years, and knowing that he spent quite a bit of time with Miss Whitall to assist with this book gives it an extra credibility that is sometimes missing from other books about artists from bygone eras.
One thing diehard Little Willie John fans (such as myself) will be interested in reading is the story behind Willie's final recordings from 1966, and why they stayed in the vaults for over 4 decades. If you're only familiar with his 1950's & early 1960's recordings, this album (finally released in 2008 as Nineteen Sixty Six: The David Axelrod & HB Barnum Sessions) is nothing short of a revelation. It was an amazingly progressive step forward for Willie as an artist - musically and vocally - and has an intensity to it that will give you another level of appreciation for his seemingly endless artistic abilities.
If there's one person in this book other than Willie John that I think readers will come away with an enormous respect for its Willie John's wife/widow, Darlynn. Her love for Willie and her 2 boys (Kevin and Keith) comes through loud and clear. She never once gave up on Willie through his all trials and tribulations, and never stopped doing all she could to support him. After his death, she took on the unimaginably difficult task of raising 2 boys as a single mother in Detroit at a time that was already extremely turbulent (the late 1960's/1970's).
I've long believed that Little Willie John was, and remains, in the top 5 greatest vocalists in the history of recorded music. Even among his peers, no one sounded anything like him - then or now. This book does a fantastic job in describing Little Willie John's short life and his enormous gift as a vocalist & artist. Hopefully, it will bring Little Willie John's unsurpassed musical legacy to a much wider audience.
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Very Interesting book for all Blues, R'n'B, Soul lover ! Love it !