Sunday, October 17, 2010

Harold "Chuck" Willis (1928 – 1958)

Harold Wills was born in 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia. A talented youngster he sang at YMCA-sponsored "Teenage Canteens" before fronting local combos. He was spotted by Zenas ”Daddy” Sears (a local DJ) at a talent competition and as his manager helped him sign with Columbia Records in 1951. He released one recording on the label before moving to Okeh records (an R&B subsidiary of Columbia). His first recording for his new label was “My story” and it became an R&B hit.

Further success came with subsequent releases of "Goin' to the River" and "Don't Deceive Me" in 1952.

"You're Still My Baby"was a hit in 1953 and "I Feel So Bad" and "Oh What a Dream" charted high in 1954.

In 1956 he moved to Atlantic records and there he worked with Jesse Stone who was the in-house arranger and conductor and another string of R&B hits followed including: "It's Too Late (She's Gone)", "Juanita", "Love Me Cherry" and his most successful recording with his version of Ma Rainey’s "C.C. Rider."

(She's Gone

This topped the US R&B charts in 1957 as well as making heavy sales in the pop market. Part of the popularity of C.C Rider was kids could dance the Stroll to it and the song was heavily pushed on TVs American Bandstand.

The Stroll was a popular line dance where two lines of dancers, men on one side and women on the other, face each other, moving in place to the music. Each paired couple then steps out and does a more elaborate dance up and down between the rows of dancers. The follow up single was another “stroll” song called "Betty and Dupree", which also sold well.

Chuck soon was billed as "The King of the Stroll." Keen not to be tied to one sound he made a variety of recordings many of the songs he wrote himself. "Don't Deceive Me (Please Don't Go)" was covered by Delaney & Bonnie, "It's Too Late (She's Gone) (versions by Buddy Holly, Charlie Rich and Otis Redding) , "I Feel So Bad" (covered by Elvis) and "Oh What a Dream" (Conway Twitty) were later covered by other major artists.

On stage Chuck wore a turban and was often billed the ‘Sheik of Shake.’ his last single, "What Am I Living For?", with the B-Side, "Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes" was released in 1958 and sold over one million copies.

Chuck Willis died in 1959 after complication from abdominal surgery.

Worth a listen
My story (1952)
Goin' to the River (1952)
Don't Deceive Me (1953)
You're Still My Baby (1954)
I Feel So Bad (1954)
Oh What a Dream (1954)
It's Too Late (She's Gone) (1956)
Juanita (1956)
Love Me Cherry (1956)
C.C. Rider (1957)
Betty and Dupree (1957)
What Am I Living For?/Hang up my rock and roll shoes (1958)

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