Monday, April 26, 2010

The Forgotten Wee Willie Wayne

Two of the really fine singer/songwriters of the 1950's R&B era had "Willie" and a diminutive descriptor in their stage names. One, William Edward "Little Willie" John had the definitive version of "Fever" (1956), done before Peggy Lee's version, and in my mind much the better of the two. He got in trouble with the law and died at age 31, but at least he is remembered by quite a few people, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

The other one, James "Wee Willie" Wayne wrote and performed what to me and a quite a few others who were young in the mid '50s is the very definition of the genre we knew then as Rhythm and Blues (even though the current generation uses that terminology differently), also known as the "Delta Sound" for its New Orleans Saturday night roots. That song was called "I Remember", although it is maybe best recalled by most of us by the refrain "Doodee-Woo-oo". Released in 1955 as the flip side of "Travelin' Mood", for much of the Spring and Summer of that year Wee Willie's recording of "I Remember" ran close to the top of the R&B radio charts across the South and some parts of the Midwest. "Travelin' Mood" got the credit for the record sales, and to my knowledge Wee Willie's other main contribution before he disappeared from the music scene was "Junco Partner" -- famously recorded by Dr. John and some others. For many years it has been almost impossible to find a recording of "I Remember", and maybe not everyone cared. But it has now turned up, in the original Imperial Records version, on iTunes, God bless'em. From those of us who grew up listening to Paul Berlin, Hotsy-Totsy, Dizzy Lizzy, or Larry Kane spin the vinyl in Houston, or to Gene Nobles on WLAC in Nashville, and to a lot of other radio stations late at night, Thank You, iTunes -- we always knew you'd amount to something someday. Now we can safely not bother to get our 45-rpm record players repaired.

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