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“SOUTHERN AND PROUD OF IT”
BY CARL UETZ
THE ALTON TELEGRAPH
AUGUST 10, 1974
The Wet Willie Band hails from Macon, Georgia and like many other southern rock groups they are slowly making their name known nationally. Beginning a few years back with the Allman Brothers Band, there has been a steady flow of new groups coming up from the south.
The Marshall Tucker Band ahd Lynyrd Skynyrd are the most prominent to follow the Allmans but then comes a distinctively different Georgian act belonging to Wet Willie. Previous groups from the south have played a more mellowed type of rock completely characteristic of their region. The first three groups all had this similarity. But wet Willie does not. They sound more like an east coast boogie band, in the vein of J. Geils Band. They feature a dynamic lead singer, saxophonist and harmonica player Jimmy Hall.
They play a very sophisticated style of music and are very deliberate on stage.
Their routine is extremely tight showing the work they have done over the past five years as members of the same group. Wet Willie has been traveling the country for three years but the intensity of their work has picked up recently and things look good for the group.
Lead guitarist Ricky Hirsch said the group will be back in the studio in October for another album’and he believes it will be the biggest success thus far for the musicians.
The band has been touring solidly almost all year. Hall said the group
toured from early March until the 26th of July with a total of only ten days off. Then, after a week of break and relaxation, it was back on the road last week as a warm-up act for War. The current tour, which included a Mississippi River Festival date this week, will last until mid-September the singer said. The group’s first big tour was the early 1974 tour, the Georgians performed as the opening act for Grand Funk Railroad which
included a visit to St. Louis. “Oh, yeah,” drummer Lewis Ross recalled. “We played in that terrible hall that they throw everybody into.” Did he mean Keil Auditorium? “That’s it,” he said with a definite tone. “It’s echo on echo in that place.”
The MRF wasn’t much better for them but they thought the crowd had a lot to do with it rather than the site or the sound. “Every time we play with War it is pretty strange,” Hall said. The singer believes that Wet Willie just doesn’t pull people to a concert which headlines War. He knows the people want to hear War but it bothers him nonetheless. It is not that he thinks War is not a good band, he believes the opposite. He just says War’s crowd is “too laid back” and relaxed for their energetic band of music. “Even War was having trouble getting the crowd going early in the tour,” he said The first tour was the other way around for Wet Willie. On that tour they stole the show from headliner Grand Funk. Hirsch simply said. “We killed ‘em. I mean, we just murdered “em.”
But the group wants to end the days of opening shows and are on their way to being a headline act. At least in small clubs and halls. Hall, whose brother plays bass in the group and his sister sings, said the group is playing the smaller concert halls and they find it easier to play good. He said the crowd is there to see them and hear their type of music. It is easier for with his strong southern sound. “They always had trouble until they got to ‘Cisco Kid.’ So now they have started opening with it and it works every time.” He was right. War did open with their successful single and the crowd seemed to enjoy it thoroughly allowing them to build up stronger communication from the stage at these concerts.
Hall is an unorthodox performer in an unorthodox band. His stage presence seems to be natural. (In place of acting out a role on stage. A strong movement has been made that way in rock). He moves almost constantly as he plays harmonica and saxophone. When he sings he is marching or dancing back and forth the entire width of the stage. He is energetic to say the least.
The show is extremely well planned but they leave enough room for improvisation. Many of the songs are interconnected and when they are not, the breaks between one song and the next are short. But within almost all of the songs is left an opportunity for the musicians to take-off and ad lib through a few minutes of solo. This gives the group increased interest.
The unorthodox part of the show comes with the very unusual, timing and breaks in the group’s songs. They are constantly suprising the listeners because their style is so much their own, that people are just not used to the music. If Wet Willie has enough tricks to keep this up for a while their chances for success will be greater. In the meantime Wet Willie will be using their southern origin as a selling point as they hope for success. All of the southern rockers show great pride in their home land. Repeatedly through Wednesday’s set, Hall told the crowd that the group hailed from Georgia. The pride for the south is evident in one of the groups songs titled “Alabama.” The opening lines of the song, written by the group’s guitarist Hirsch, are as follows: “They talk about you, They say these bad things, “They just ain’t seen all the joy you can bring.” But the flow of groups, from Georgia at least, may be near the end according to Hirsch. ‘”There just aren’t any young musicians down there,” he said. Many groups, seeking the new southern popularity as a selling point are trying to
launch careers from this area he added, “But most of them came from Kansas or someplace else, and claim to be from Georgia or Alabama.”
All of Wet Willie’s musicians were anxious to talk. They wanted to know what kind of air play they are getting on the radio in this area, particularly their single “Keep On Smilin’.” They are anxious to become popular and they want to spread their music to a wider audience. They came from the south, up the midwest, and after Wednesday’s MRF concert they were prepared to go elsewhere to advertise their sound. Where Wet Willie was headed next, they said they did not know. They didn’t even seem to care. They’ll just keep on smilin’ and keep on playin’..
WET WILLIE DISCOGRAPHY:
1971 Wet Willie
1972 Wet Willie II
1973 Drippin’ Wet (Live)
1974 Keep On Smilin’
1975 Dixie Rock
1976 The Wetter the Better
1977 Left Coast Live
1977 Greatest Hits‡
1979 Which One’s Willie?
1994 The Best of Wet Willie (Live)
2003 20th Century Masters,The Millennium Collection
2004 High Humidity (Live)
2005 Epic Willie (The Epic Recordings)
2005 Keep on Smilin’/Dixie Rock
2006 Playing Live Tonight: The Wet Willie Band
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