Chuck Willis

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Chuck Willis
Birth name Harold Willis
Born (1928-01-31)January 31, 1928
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Died April 10, 1958(1958-04-10) (aged 30)
Atlanta, Georgia
Genres R&B, rock and roll
Occupations Singer, songwriter
Years active 1950–58
Labels OKeh, Atlantic

Harold "Chuck" Willis (January 31, 1928 – April 10, 1958)[1] was an American blues, rhythm and blues,[2] and rock and roll singer and songwriter. His biggest hits, "C. C. Rider" (1957) and "What Am I Living For" (1958), both reached No.1 on the Billboard R&B chart. He was known as The King of the Stroll for his performance of the 1950s dance The Stroll.[3]

Biography[edit]

Willis was born in Atlanta, Georgia.[4] Willis was spotted at a talent contest by Atlanta radio disc jockey Zenas Sears, who became his manager and helped him to sign with Columbia Records in 1951.[3] After one single, Willis began recording on a Columbia subsidiary, Okeh. During his stay at Okeh, he established himself as a popular R&B singer and songwriter. In 1956, he moved to Atlantic Records where he had immediate success with "It's Too Late (She's Gone)", "Juanita" and "Love Me Cherry". His most successful recording was "C.C. Rider", which topped the US Billboard R&B chart in 1957 and also crossed over and sold well in the pop market. "C.C. Rider" was a remake of a twelve-bar blues, performed by Ma Rainey in Atlanta before Willis was born.[3] Its relaxed beat, combined with a mellow vibraphone backing and chorus, inspired the emergence of the popular dance, The Stroll. Willis's follow-up was "Betty and Dupree", another "stroll" song, which also did well. Willis' single "Going to the River", a song by Fats Domino, was a prototype for his "stroll" sound, reaching No.4 on the R&B chart.[3]

Willis, who had suffered from stomach ulcers for many years, died during surgery in Chicago of peritonitis while at the peak of his career, just after the release of his last single, "What Am I Living For?", backed by "Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes".[4] "What Am I Living For?" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[1] It was also the top R&B disc of 1958.[1]

His hit, the blues ballad "It's Too Late (She's Gone)" was covered by other artists, including Otis Redding, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos and the Jerry Garcia Band. In 2005, it was heavily sampled by Kanye West on Late Registration's "Gone". Elvis Presley covered "I Feel So Bad" and "C. C. Rider" and Ruth Brown and Conway Twitty had hits with "Oh What a Dream".

Willis's cousin is Chick Willis.

Discography[edit]

Chart singles[edit]

Year A-side Label Chart Positions
US Pop[5] US
R&B
[6]
1952 "My Story" OKeh 4-6905 2
1953 "Going to the River" OKeh 4-6952 4
"Don't Deceive Me" OKeh 4-6985 6
1954 "You're Still My Baby" OKeh 4-7015 4
"I Feel So Bad" OKeh 4-7029 8
1956 "It's Too Late" Atlantic 1098 3
"Juanita" /
"Whatcha' Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You"
Atlantic 1112 7
11
1957 "C. C. Rider" Atlantic 1130 12 1
1958 "Betty and Dupree" Atlantic 1168 33 15
"What Am I Living For" /
"Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes"
Atlantic 1179 9
24
1
9
"My Life" Atlantic 1192 46 12
"Keep A-Driving" Atlantic 2005 19

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 109. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  2. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d Windham, Ben (February 15, 2003). "New release digs deep into Chuck Willis' background". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 16.
  4. ^ a b Thedeadrockstarsclub.com Accessed March 2010
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 769. ISBN 0-89820-155-1. 
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. p. 485.