In attempting to describe Vintage Trouble, Rolling Stone asked readers to imagine James Brown fronting Led Zeppelin. While the group can rock out with the best of them, their new album, 1 Hopeful Road, shows a deeper connection to soul of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, with songs like “Another Man’s Words” that cut to the bone as quick as anything to come out of Muscle Shoals or Memphis. Their live show is a whole ‘nuther thang — a rock-solid band of brothers holding down the groove while Ty Taylor leaps from the stage to the seats, wringing every bit of feeling from each song with bottomless soul and boundless energy. Ty took a break from the band’s opening slot on AC/DC’s world tour to talk about the R&B singer he couldn’t believe he hadn’t known all his life — the great Little Willie John.
I’ve only known Little Willie John’s music a short time and yet he’s leapt to the top of my list of all-time favorite voices
It’s like the old folks say: Sometimes the best things in life land in our laps unexpectedly. That’s how I look at how I came to Little Willie John. I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t know who the man even was until I Googled Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and a YouTube video of his original version of the song popped up. Point, click, BOOM. From the first time I heard his voice my heart swelled and my soul cried. I immediately downloaded as much LWJ as I could find to absorb as much as I could of his style. I’d only been aware of the man a week before I tore through his biography (thank you, Tom Papa Ray, for giving me your old copy…I say giving instead of loaning because you’re definitely not getting it back).
Since the ’50’s and early ’60s were all about singles, most of the Little Willie John albums I was finding were “greatest hits” collections, and the one that knocked me into submission was Little Willie John: All 15 of His Chart Hits from 1953 – 1962. It starts out with the tongue-in-cheek swing of “All Around The World” (which Little Milton and others would recut as “Grits Ain’t Groceries”). Good stuff. But THEN comes ”Need Your Love So Bad.” I’m hooked—captured for always and for good.
More than all the vocal gymnastics, I’m a tone freak. Little Willie John’s gift has the rare combo of ripping, brasslike power and the smooth, airy warmth of a lower woodwind instrument. Then you get to the rhythm of his blues, which act like stones skipping across the pools of your emotions. He leads the music while simultaneous being affected by every turn of every instrument playing behind him. He picks on themes and varies them with such grace that it allows you to hear repetitions that never quite repeat and never grow old.
The third song on the set is “Fever” and believe me when I say you don’t want the cure. And from there he just keeps going, song after song, making an open-and-shut case for being one of the best that ever was. He croons with the class of Johnny Mathis or Nat “King” Cole, preaches with the fire and brimstone of early James Brown and Solomon Burke, and swings between gospel and jazz as effortlessly as Sam Cooke or Jackie Wilson.
I’ve only known Little Willie John’s music a short time and yet he’s leapt to the top of my list of all-time favorite voices. This collection is a seesaw of melodic, rhythmic and interpretive glory that I don’t ever want to get off of. Dig in. He’ll put it on you, too. He’s that good.