Little Willie John Biography
William Edward “Little Willie” John was a popular American R&B performer in the 1950s and early 1960s. He is best known for his chart-topping singles “All Around the World” (1955), “Need Your Love So Bad” (1956), “Talk to Me, Talk to Me” (1958), “Leave My Kitten Alone” (1960), “Sleep” (1960), and his number-one R&B smash “Fever” (1960). He was a significant role in 1950s R&B music, but he slipped into oblivion in the 1960s and died while serving a jail sentence for manslaughter. In 1996, John was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posthumously. John was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2022.
On November 15, 1937, John was born in Cullendale, Arkansas. The older children, including Willie, formed a gospel singing quartet in the late 1940s. Willie also participated in talent events, which drew the attention of Johnny Otis and, later, musician and producer Henry Glover. Glover signed him to a recording contract with King Records in 1955 after hearing him sing with the Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams group. Because of his small stature, he was dubbed “Little Willie.” John’s first single, a cover of Titus Turner’s “All Around the World,” became a smash, peaking at number 5 on the Billboard R&B chart.
He had a streak of R&B successes after that, including the original version of “Need Your Love So Bad,” which he co-wrote with his elder brother Mertis John Jr. “Fever” (1956) (Pop number 24, R&B number 1) was one of his biggest songs, selling over one million copies and earning him a gold disc. Peggy Lee produced a classic cover version in 1958. Another single, “Talk to Me, Talk to Me,” hit number 5 on the R&B list and number 20 on the Pop chart in 1958. It also sold over one million copies. It was a smash again a few years later in a cover version by Sunny & the Sunglows. On December 23, 1959, John also recorded Rudy Toombs’ “I’m Shakin’,” “Suffering with the Blues,” and “Sleep.” John made the Billboard Hot 100 fourteen times in total. In Europe, a cover version of Fleetwood Mac‘s “Need Your Love So Bad” was also a smash. Another of his songs that was covered was “Leave My Kitten Alone” (1959), which The Beatles recorded in 1964 for their Beatles for Sale album. The song, however, was not published until 1995.
Stevie Wonder presented John with his posthumous induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. James Brown, who had opened for John earlier in his career, released a tribute CD, Thinking About Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things. Robbie Robertson, formerly of The Band, acknowledged John in the song “Somewhere Down the Crazy River,” from his 1987 self-titled album. From his 2004 album Bubblegum, John was also mentioned in Tom Russell’s “Blue Wing” and Mark Lanegan’s “Like Little Willie John.” In 1991, Swedish singer-songwriter Peter LeMarc released a song called “Little Willie John.”
Susan Whitall and Kevin John (another of his sons) collaborated on a biography, Fever: Little Willie John, a Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul, which was published by Titan Books in 2011. Little Willie John was elected into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame as a singer in 2014 and as a songwriter in 2016.
Little Willie John was inducted into the Michigan Rock & Roll Legends Hall of Fame in June 2016. John was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2022. “… John was a sharply dressed and energetic showstopper, recalled by fellow vocalists as naughty, fun-loving, and generous,” according to his induction citation.
On May 26, 1968, John died at the Washington State Penitentiary. Despite assertions to the contrary, the cause of death listed on his death certificate was a heart attack. His ashes were scattered in Detroit Memorial Park East in Warren, Michigan.
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|The Sweet, The Hot, The Teen-Age Beat|
|Talk To Me|
|Mister Little Willie John|
Frequently Asked Questions
What Genre Is Little Willie John?
What Is Little Willie John’S Best Album?
There are many different opinions on what Little Willie John’s best album is. Some say it is his self-titled album from 1956, while others believe it is 1962’s Fever. No matter which album you think is his best, there is no doubt that Little Willie John was a talented and influential musician.
Who Wrote Songs For Little Willie John ?
The answer is Johnny “Guitar” Watson. He wrote a number of songs for Little Willie John, including the hit “Fever.” Other notable songs written by Watson include “A Real Mother For Ya” and “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).
How Many Albums Do The Little Willie John’S Have?
The Little Willie John’s have a total of four albums.
What Was Little Willie John’S Biggest Hit?
“Fever” was Little Willie John’s biggest hit. It reached number one on the R&B charts and number 24 on the pop charts. The song has been covered by many artists, including Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, and Madonna.