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Willie Mabon

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Album Review

Willie Mabon was never exactly a smooth singer, but his raspy vocals carried enough of a self-amused sneer to keep things interesting, and while his sturdy piano playing had some jazz inflection, his occasional rack harmonica blurts kept the musical perspective firmly on the blues side of R&B. This rather random collection from Austria's Wolf Records shouldn't really be called Best of Willie Mabon, since it omits two of his biggest hits, 1953's "I'm Mad" and 1954's "Poison Ivy," while substituting a live version of his biggest success, 1952's "I Don't Know." That said, this compilation does form an adequate introduction to this somewhat eccentric musician, and there is a lot to like here, including the delightfully snotty attitude of "I Got to Have Some" and its equally snotty sequel, "Just Got Some." Mabon could, when he chose, be wonderfully delicate as well, and his somber song of regret, "Somebody's Gotta Pay," is given a moving reading here, and is one of Mabon's finest moments. The disc closes with solo live versions of "Little Red Rooster" and "Rockin' Willie." Hardly comprehensive, this anthology at least sets the table and provides an accurate — if brief — portrait of this odd and unsung R&B pioneer.


Born: 24 October 1925 in Hollywood, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

The sly, insinuating vocals and chunky piano style of Willie Mabon won the heart of many an R&B fan during the early '50s. His salty Chess waxings "I Don't Know," "I'm Mad," and "Poison Ivy" established the pianist as a genuine Chicago blues force, but he faded as an R&B hitmaker at the dawn of rock & roll. Mabon was already well-grounded in blues tradition from his Memphis upbringing when he hit Chicago in 1942. Schooled in jazz as well as blues, Mabon found the latter his ticket to stardom. His...
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Willie Mabon, Willie Mabon
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