C.C. Rider Venerates: Little Willie John
He lived fast, died young, and left behind a legacy of incredible—but largely forgotten—recordings.
Little Willie John was just five feet tall and seventeen years old when he walked into the office of a New York record company in a borrowed suit way too big for him. The man behind the desk played him a copy of a single that’d been released that very day. A track called “All Around the World,” sung by one Titus Turner. Little Willie said: “I can do better than that”.
He opened his mouth, sang a few bars and got signed on the spot. Three hours later he was in a booth with some of the best session musicians in the city, cutting that very song. Some say that with that record the very first soul singer was born. Bras and panties started flyin’ off all around the country.
Little Willie John was outstanding in every way. James Brown once opened for him, and went slack-jaw at what Willie could do. When the young Stevie Wonder told his Momma about his new nick-name she said “If you call yourself ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder you better be as good as Little Willie John.”
Despite all his promise, Little Willie had a short career. Incarcerated for murder, he died early of mysterious causes, and he’s become relatively obscure. I’m fixin’ to change that. You’ve surely heard this song before—but have you heard this version? Quiet down, Peggy Lee, here’s Little Willie John with the original— “Fever.”