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Chuck Willis: R&B Originals

Chuck Willis

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Album Review

This two-CD, 51-song set is indeed the complete output of Chuck Willis for Columbia. It's the kind of overview that 1950s collectors expect only of import labels such as Bear Family, in fact, gathering not only every last single, but various songs that didn't surface at the time, including three previously unissued tracks (one of them an early version of "Search My Heart"). It isn't, of course, the complete work of everything he waxed before his death in 1958, as it has nothing from his subsequent stint at Atlantic, a period which though brief included his best and most commercial music. That means there's no "What Am I Living For," "C.C. Rider," "Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes," or "Betty and Dupree." It also means that this collection is far more tilted toward early-'50s R&B and jump blues than rock & roll. For those reasons it's the second Willis compilation of choice, but it's still superior R&B on the verge of transition into rock & roll, including the Latin-tinged number that became something of a standard, "I Feel So Bad." Much of the earlier sides here were spirited but similar-sounding jump blues-R&B, broken up by some urbane ballads, most of the material written by Willis himself. Truthfully, it gets more interesting and diverse on the later sides on disc two, in which Willis started admitting some rock & roll and doo wop into his style, as on the romantic ballad "I Can Tell," the minor-keyed "Night of Misery," and "Bless Her Heart," which sounds like an early rock & roll spin on Little Walter's "My Babe." Also of interest is "Keep a Knockin'," a 1954 recording that seems to foreshadow some of the ideas used in the 1957 Little Richard hit of the same name, though it's far from the exact same song.

Biography

Born: 31 January 1928 in Atlanta, GA

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s

There were two distinct sides to Chuck Willis. In addition to being a convincing blues shouter, the Atlanta-born Willis harbored a vulnerable blues balladeer side. In addition, he was a masterful songwriter who penned some of the most distinctive R&B numbers of the 1950s. He can't be granted principal credit for his 1957 smash adaptation of "C.C. Rider," an irresistible update of a classic folk-blues, but Willis did write such gems as "I Feel So Bad" (later covered by Elvis Presley, Little Milton,...
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Chuck Willis: R&B Originals, Chuck Willis
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