A pre-stardom Barry White began using singer Viola Wills as a session vocalist on sides that he produced for Bob Keane's Bronco/Mustang labels. In the mid-'60s, Keane -- known for hits by Ritchie Valens, the Bobby Fuller Four, and Johnny Crawford of ABC-TV's hit western The Rifleman -- wanted to expand into soul music. In 1965, A&R director White signed Wills to Bronco as a solo artist. She recorded several sides for the label; all failed to chart. In 1969, she recorded a single for the A Bem Soul label that also failed to hit. In 1974, she replaced backup vocalist Claudia Linnear on Joe Cocker's European tour. While in the U.K., Wills recorded for Goodear. Three years later, she signed with Arista Records.
In 1979, while signed to the Ariola/Hansa label, Wills enjoyed her biggest hit with a disco version of Patience and Prudence's 1957 hit "Gonna Get Along Without You." Recording in an uptempo dance Hi-NRG style, Wills scored dancefloor hits with "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Up on the Roof." Wills had a Top 40 U.K. hit with the double-sided hit "Both Sides Now" and "Dare to Dream" on the Wide Angle label.
One of her Bronco singles played an integral part in a number one R&B smash. In the mid-'70s, while working on material for the next Love Unlimited album, group member Glodean James suggested to producer Barry White that he use the piano introduction from Wills' "Lost Without the Love of My Guy" on a new song. At first resistant to the idea because he didn't want to repeat himself, White relented. He reused the piano chord progression from "Lost Without the Love of My Guy" on "I Belong to You." The majestic ballad went to number one R&B in late 1974. It was included on the album In Heat and on Best of Love Unlimited.
Though Wills hasn't had a mainstream U.S. hit to date, her singles are popular in dance clubs and a number of her recordings are floating around, including "No News Is News," "House Is Not a Home," "If You Could Read My Mind," "Let's Love Now," "Take One Step Forward" (by Wills and Noel McCalla), and "Always Something There to Remind Me." ~ Ed Hogan