Monday, 14 September 2020

"Wet Willie/Wet Willie II" by WET WILLIE – August 1971 US Debut LP and August 1972 US Second Studio Albums - Both On Capricorn Records (3 July 2020 UK Beat Goes On Reissue – 2LPs onto 1CD – Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...




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"...Have A Good Time... "


Formed in 1969 and hailing out Mobile, Alabama – WET WILLIE moved to Macon, Georgia in 1970 where they were influenced by and knew people around The Allman Brothers – that good-time Blues Boogie supergroup already signed of course to Capricorn Records – home of all things Southern American Rock.

 

Taking their name from a prank (and not something ruder my dear) and firmly in the arena of say Grinderswitch or The Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie's brand of Blues-infused Swamp Rock 'n' Roll took its time to strike a note with listeners in the USA. Not charting until their third album, and not surprisingly from the live arena where they were best suited - "Drippin Wet/Live" hit the Billboard LP charts in May 1973 and peaking at a modest No.189. With Lynyrd Skynyrd in full flow by 1974 and already onto their fantastic second album "Second Coming" - the one with "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Call Me the Breeze" on it - Wet Willie's next from May 1974 rode the wave of that popularity. Their fourth record - the studio set "Keep On Smilin'" - made them a name in the USA and peaked at No. 41. Never quite huge like their contemporaries in twin-guitars crime - there have, however, been no less than six other albums (including a Greatest Hits set) that charted in the lower end of the US Top 200 after that - right up until 1979. They are still a popular band in the South where Mama likes her Red Hot Chickens and Grits Ain't Groceries...

 

In the UK, however, Wet Willie meant very little, their debut released November 1971 on an Atlantic Records Plum Label LP with imported US gatefold artwork and (because it sold naught) every album thereafter unreleased in Blighty. You had to seek out "II" as an import and I recall there simply weren't that many copies around at the time. Which brings us here...

 

This July 2020 digital-twofer from England's Beat Goes On (BGO) goes back to Wet Willie beginnings – the Allmans meets Elvin Bishop groove of the debut LP from 1971 aside its funkier Area Code 615 vs. Little Feat follow-up from 1972 (both on Capricorn Records). Lumped together and remastered onto one generously timed CD, it’s not all genius by any stretch of the imagination (lack of fiery guitars and actual killer tunes), but each LP genuinely has moments well worth savouring and Butterfield-type Harmonica playing that thrills (their second helping very definitely a notch up on the first). Let's get to the details and have a good time...

 

UK released 3 July 2020 - "Wet Willie/Wet Willie II" by WET WILLIE on Beat Goes on BGOCD 1419 (Barcode 5017261214195) offers 2LPs Remastered onto 1CD and plays out as follows (76:33 minutes):

 

1. Have A Good Time [Side 1]

2. Dirty Leg

3. Faded Love

4. Spinning Round

5. Low Rider

6. Rock And Roll Band [Side 2]

7. Pieces

8. Shame, Shame, Shame

9. Beggar Song

10. Fool On You

Tracks 1 to 10 are their debut album "Wet Willie" - released August 1971 in the USA on Capricorn Records SD 861 and November 1971 in the UK on Atlantic Records 2400 162 using imported US gatefold cover art. Produced by EDDIE OFFORD - it didn't chart in either country

 

11. Shout Bamalama [Side 1]

12. Love Made Me

13. Red Hot Chicken

14. It Hurts Me Too

15. Keep A Knockin' [Side 2]

16. Airport

17. Grits Ain't Groceries

18. Shotgun Man

19. Shaggi's Song 

Tracks 11 to 19 are their second studio album "Wet Willie II" - released August 1972 in the USA on Capricorn Records CP 0109 (no UK release). Produced by EDDIE OFFORD - it didn't chart

 

WET WILLIE was:

JIMMY HALL - Vocals, Harmonica, Tenor Sax and Percussion

RICKY HIRSCH - Lead Guitar and Background Vocals

JOHN ANTHONY – Electric Piano, Organ, Piano and Background Vocals

JACK HALL - Bass Guitar and Background Vocals

LEWIS ROSS – Drums and Percussion

WICK LARSEN – Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Acoustic and Moog (2nd LP only)Guests:

Donna Hall – Backing Vocals on "Beggar Song"

Ella Avery - Backing Vocals on "Shout Bamalama"

Susie Storm - Backing Vocals on "Shaggi's Song"

Scott Bayer – Pedal Steel Guitar on "Love Made Me" and "Shaggi's Song"

 

The card slipcase lends these BGO reissues a feel of class and the 16-page booklet with new NEIL DANIELS liner notes not only provides original artwork, but also gives a full band history including interviews with founder Vocalist and band custodian Jimmy Hall. If I was to criticize, it’s that these liner notes spend more time telling you about the group's history than the actual album's they're reissuing. For instance fellow Birmingham, Alabama songwriter Frank Friedman gave four songs to the debut and would later join Wet Willie - the notes don’t mention this or that his "Beggar Song" (from the debut) was sampled by Jay-Z.

 

The remasters are by long-standing Audio Engineer ANDREW THOMPSON and while Daniels claims in the liner notes that the audio on the debut is great while the second is a tad lacking (compressed) - I'd argue that it’s the other way around. The debut is a 'getting there/stepping stone' affair and feels ever so slightly clunky. But with EDDIE OFFORD of Yes fame at the Production helm - it still sounds great to me. The funkier follow-up goes up a notch - way better Audio-wise. Sure it feels manic in places - a little rough and loose around the collar, but much better for it - the band playing with conviction and using sexier rhythms and tunes (including some inspired covers). To the music...

 

A Dr. John piano groove opens "Have A Good Time" - Lead Singer Jimmy Hall advising us to "...forget all your troubles...leave them behind..." Despite some crappy machismo lyrics like "...she don't need to be a beauty queen..." - the second cut "Dirty Leg" introduces some lowdown funky clavinet keyboards - like Foghat had discovered Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" three years before the event. Fellow Alabama songwriter Friedman provides the first of four tunes - a rather sappy piano ballad called "Faded Love" - its title summing up how dated it now feels in 2020. "Spinning Round" is so much better - Hall informing us that even though he's kinda ugly, he's still a ton of fun to be with (great guitar work in this one as it fades out). "Low Rider", "Fool On You" and tunes like "Rock And Roll Band" are ok but reaching - none with a tune that is memorable. Better is "Pieces" where our Southern hero contemplates what he's worth as he looks around at the little he owns. But for me the best cut is the slinky groove achieved in "Beggar Song" - Donna Hall providing subtle background vocals - Wet Willie sounding not unlike England's Snafu all funked up.  

 

Probably short on original tunes, four of the nine on platter number two are covers - a rollicking Side 1 opener in "Shout Bamalama" from Otis Redding, very cool struttin' Blues with "It Hurts Me Too" by Elmore James, the manic Little Richard rocker "Keep A Knockin'" (which I swear England's Fumble nicked note for note for their version on "Poetry In Lotion" album in 1975 on RCA Records) and Titus Turner's "Grits Ain’t Groceries" made famous by Little Milton on Checker in 1968. All great - but my crave is a fantastic instrumental (few vocal shouts) called "Red Hot Chicken" - Hall on Saxophone and Harmonica as the band gets Funky Rock worthy of any Little Feat vs. Area Code 615 jam. It's 4:46 minutes in a 'funky funky' moment in the Rock world that will appeal to Soul boys and dancers alike.

 

For sure there is a very definite feeling that Wet Willie lacked the sheer musical attack and tunes of Lynyrd Skynyrd or say The Allman Brothers - but Hall and Co. could Paul Butterfield Blues Band with the best of them and that long-standing vibe began here. And the Remasters rock too...

 

PS: Other BGO Reissues covering WET WILLIE are:

1. Keep On Smilin' (May 1974)/Dixie Rock (March 1975) - 2LPs onto 1CD

Released June 2009 on Beat Goes On BGOCD873 (Barcode 5017261208736)


2. The Wetter The Better (March 1976)/Left Coast Live (May 1977)

Released August 2013 on Beat Goes On BGOCD1087 (Barcode 5017261210876)


3. Mannerisms (January 1978)/Which One's Willie? (May 1979)

Released December 2013 on Beat Goes On BGOCD1133 (Barcode 5017261211330)

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