Willie Hale

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Willie Hale
Also known asLittle Beaver
Born (1945-08-15) August 15, 1945 (age 73)
Forrest City, Arkansas
LabelsTK Records

Willie George Hale (born August 15, 1945), often known by the name Little Beaver, is an American R&B guitarist, singer and songwriter featured on many hit records since the 1960s.

Early life and session musicianship[edit]

Hale was born in Forrest City, Arkansas, and acquired the nickname "Little Beaver" as a child because of his prominent teeth. He became a virtuoso guitarist at an early age. In the early 1960s, he moved to Florida and in 1969 was signed by songwriter and producer Willie Clarke to the Cat label, an offshoot of Henry Stone’s TK Records, based in Hialeah, near Miami.

As a session musician, his characteristic guitar sound was soon heard on many hit TK recordings, including Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman”. (However, contrary to some sources, he was not featured on George McCrae’s "Rock Your Baby", which featured Jerome Smith of KC & the Sunshine Band[1]).

Solo recording career[edit]

He initially recorded three singles for Frank Williams' local Saadia label and one released on Philadelphia's Phil L.A. of Soul in the late 1960s, all produced by Williams and featuring his Rocketeers band.

Hale launched his TK solo career on Cat in 1972 with "Joey", produced by TK's senior producer, Steve Alaimo. His biggest hit came in 1974 with “Party Down”, which made #2 on the Billboard R&B chart. He released five albums as Little Beaver in the 1970s, a mixture of blues, soul and funk. However, he lost out commercially at the height of the disco boom. Many of his records featured other key Florida R&B musicians including Wright, pianist Benny Latimore, and organist Timmy Thomas. His 1974 album Party Down also featured, on one track, bassist Jaco Pastorius, credited as Nelson "Jocko" Padron. Reviewing the album in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau said: "The great T.K. guitarist (né Willie Hale) has a problem when he sings, which is that he can't. Ruined last year's blues album, but somehow it doesn't get in the way of this dance-groove item. The lyrics sound as if they were made up on the spot by somebody with a lot of common sense, and Beaver talks that talk as he goes about his work, which is seeing to the aforementioned groove."[2]

Hale's recording career effectively ended in the early 1980s with his final album in 1980 and the closure of TK records due to bankruptcy a year later. Hale was recruited by Betty Wright in 2003 to play on Joss Stone’s albums The Soul Sessions and Mind, Body & Soul and released a new album in 2008 on the Henry Stone Music label, which also issued re-workings of his Cat recordings and re-issues of his 1970s albums.

Legacy[edit]

Some of his tracks have been sampled by hip-hop artists in recent years. The Los Angeles hip-hop duo People Under The Stairs sampled "Get into the Party Life" and "I Can Dig It Baby," for two tracks on their 2002 album, O.S.T., and titled the songs "Suite For Beaver, Part 1" and "Suite For Beaver, Part 2," respectively, as a tribute. "Get into the Party Life" was also later sampled on Jay-Z’s track "Party Life" from his American Gangster album.

American fingerstyle guitarist Leo Kottke's instrumental tune "Little Beaver" (A Shout Toward Noon, 1986 Private Music) is named for Willie Hale, and Kottke's rhythmic style in the tune is an homage to Hale.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary: Jerome Smith | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles at BNET.com
  2. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: L". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 1, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  3. ^ The truth about Little Beaver by Leo Kottke on YouTube