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Wet Willie

Wet Willie were, after the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the hardest-rocking of the Southern bands to come to national attention in the early '70s. For seven years, from 1971 until 1978, they produced an enviable array of albums awash in good-time music, rollicking high-energy blues-rock, and white Southern soul, and for their trouble they racked up just one Top Ten hit ("Keep On Smilin'") and a lot of admirers. In contrast to the Allman Brothers Band, whose jumping-off point was really Cream and who based their music on long jams, Wet Willie were closer in spirit to Booker T. & the MG's and perhaps the Mar-Keys, of Stax/Volt fame, much more steeped in sweaty, good-time R&B than the blues-rock of the Allmans or the country-rock of the Marshall Tucker Band. Think of what Lynyrd Skynyrd might have sounded like with but one lead guitar on a white chitlin circuit, if such a thing had existed.

The band, originally called Fox, got together in Mobile, AL, in 1969 behind the powerful vocals and distinctive sax of Jimmy Hall, with Jimmy's brother Jack on bass and banjo, Ricky Hirsch on lead and slide guitars and mandolin (as well as writing a lot of the songs), Lewis Ross on the skins, and John Anthony (later succeeded by Mike Duke) playing the keyboards. They counted the Rolling Stones and the Animals among their influences, but their sound was closer in spirit to early Otis Redding or Little Richard -- which made the move to Macon, GA, in early 1970 a natural one, the town being Richard Penniman's onetime home, as well as the headquarters of Capricorn Records, the company run by Redding's onetime manager, Phil Walden. Wet Willie auditioned for Capricorn that summer and were at work on their debut album by the fall of that same year.

Despite sharing the same label as the Allmans and the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie wasn't like either of those groups. They jammed, but usually not for stretches of more than ten or 12 minutes, and they weren't laid-back Southerners. Rather, Wet Willie played an intense, very vocal-oriented brand of white Southern soul. Indeed, they were probably the only white group that one could imagine doing a song such as, say, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and not embarrassing themselves in the process; the group probably most like them in later years was Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and they were much less defined regionally.

Their first two albums were released with barely a ripple, and their third, a live concert document called Drippin' Wet, was the first to scrape the lower reaches of the Top 200 albums. The group's third studio release, Keep On Smilin', finally gave them a hit with the title track, and yielded a handful of other popular tracks. The addition of the female backing group the Williettes only opened the group's sound out further with a gospel and soul sensibility. Dixie Rock and Wetter the Better followed in short order, but neither of those albums matched Keep On Smilin' in the songwriting department, and the band suffered a gradual decline in its album sales, despite getting a hit single out of "Dixie Rock." The band issued one final album on Capricorn in 1977, which was followed, perhaps too closely, by Wet Willie's Greatest Hits (Capricorn by that time had run into severe financial problems and was releasing anything that looked like it might sell).

Around this time, the group went through a series of internal shifts and it next emerged in 1978 with new lineup and a new contract with Epic Records. Jimmy and Jack Hall were still there, only now they were joined by three additional singers -- in addition to keyboardist Mike Duke, guitarist Marshall Smith and drummer Theophilus K. Lively contributed seriously to the vocalizing, and, to top it off, the band now had another guitar player in Larry Berwald. The result was the gorgeous Manorisms album, which showed off harmony singing like nobody's business and a pop side to the soul stylings that occasionally had the group crossing successfully close to Motown territory, only a lot hotter and sweatier than, say, the Grass Roots (who also had a kind of white Motown sound) ever got. Sad to say, while their concert audiences were healthy and they were at no loss for gigs, Manorisms never sold, lacking the hit single to get it a foothold on AM radio. The band released one more album, Which One's Willie?, in 1979, which performed just as poorly or worse. The group finally broke up in 1980 after nearly a decade of great records and even better shows.

In the 1990s, Wet Willie re-formed around a core of keyboardist John Anthony, guitarist Ricky Hirsch, and Jimmy Hall, with other musicians -- including Smith, Duke, and Lively -- filling out their ranks. Wet Willie's recording efforts have been intermittent at best, but they've been very busy performing on-stage. In 1996, they were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and, in March of 2001, were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. They remain an active performing band in two distinct incarnations -- with Jimmy Hall in their lineup, they're billed as Wet Willie, while for shows and on records for which Hall is unable to participate, they work as the Wet Willie Band, with guitarist Ric Seymour as lead singer. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Comments

mhamblin58
Hey y'all if ya want to watch some great kick a** southern rock get the DVD by blackberry smoke live at the Georgia theatre August 5 2011. Jimmy Hall plays 2 songs on this DVD with the band and he kicks a** as usual!!
saw wet willie 4 times and beenfolling him since, very approachable and a friend of of all his fans. GREAT
saw WW less than 24 months ago (today is 3/16/14) @ chastain-atl a n t a (The Capricorn Experience w-Chuck Leavell, Randall Bramblett, Cowboy=Tommy Talton & Scott Boyer); once in a lifetime line-up. JUST 12 months prior they performed in Rome Ga for a private function; only 75 of us (less?); performance was just as energetic if not more so than atlanta. BUT, BUT, BUT, 1st saw them FREE at Weslyan College-Maco n in atrium of a lecture hall '69-'70; maybe 30 students. hooked ever since. I'm 62.
wally3h
In 1976 Wet Willie opened up for Billy Preston at the Hump on MSU campus in Starkville, MS. Great show! Poor Billy was nearly an hour late starting his show due to the encores for Wet Willie!

Wet Willie played 'Ole Man Rivers in Westwego LA in early fall '78. I worked there and saw a lot of acts from Earl Scruggs to Talking Heads. Wet Willie and their crew were one of the tightest acts I ever saw. They came to play and blew the doors off the joint. As a fan, you couldn't ask for more. I miss that groove...
Pandora needs to put the Macon Ga Greasy Hambone Blues available for listening, off Drippin Wet
The wetter the better!
Ditto for more Sea Level albums.
Please join me in requesting that Pandora add more Wet Willie albums as well as solo albums by Jimmy Hall. There is success in numbers. Just zip a one- or two-sentence email to suggest-musi c @ p a n d o r a . c o m thanks
Keep On Smilin to that Drippin Wet Southern Rock
fox 1969 city-of-mobi l e al.mun.park free-shows-o n sundays--was there
Saw them at freedom hall in Johnson City Tn. Jimmie Hall is still one of my greatest musical Influences. I wish I could see them again!
Saw them at the Agora in Dallas in the 80's promoting their Which one's Willie album. By far their best album and the show was fantastic.
rvowell_csa
Someone mentioned a solo hit by Jimmy, I remember seeing his live performance of Midnight to Daylight.... w h a t a song!
rvowell_csa
I used to date Jimmy and Jack's neighbor in Mobile, Elizabeth she said she used to listen to them play in the garage. I mentioned this fact to Jimmy once after a solo show in Nashville, he remembered little Elizabeth. Jimmy Hall is not only a great great performer, but a class act!
Traveled to Tifton, Ga. from Valdosta, Ga. in the early seventies to see them play in a tin covered tabacco warehouse. Maybe fifty people showed up but WW still put on a great show and we had a blast best I can remember...M u s t be jelly cause jam don't shake like that....than k s Mike S.
twhaight59
I saw them open for the Guess Who. Sugarloaf was on the bill as well around 1975. Great show.
ksweetmeat
they are one of the best groups that no one knows about, they are super and I have sen then at least 4 times over the years
i got the right plane baby...just tha wrong airport
jerry h i wantta hear about BabyFat.. are they a band??
jerryhen
I started hanging out with FOX in Mobile March of '70. I went to Macon with them June of that year when they took up the WET WILLIE contract. I hauled their stuff around and set it up. I always wondered what I would do when I grew up. 41 years later and I'm still in the business. Thanks guys for a long and wonderful career. I'm listening to Baby Fat right now. What a time we had!!!
Same time :1973. Richmond, Va, Headliner - Doobie Bros., then Wet Willie, but the first act was some guy playing a grand piano. Wasn't even on the bill. Some guy turned out to be Billy Joel. Possibly best show I've ever seen. WW still sounds good and could still rock.
Time:1973 Place:Valdos t a , G a . , o n the back of a flatbed trailer in the middle of a dirt track raceway infield. Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes, Roundhouse and the head liner...WET WILLIE. I was 17 years old. Airport and Grits Ain't Groceries was enblazoned in my soul 4EVER!!!! 4 years later I met Jimmie Hall and have played a blues harp since! Shout Bamalama and live those Macon Hambone Blues all while eating that Red Hot Chicken and stay Drippin Wet! I want to go back........ . . .
keep on smilin'
klcjacks
Music wil never be this pure again. Wet Willie, PPL, Marshall Tucker, ARS, little feet many others I'm drunk and I love Pandora for bringing them back for me. I remember them and type them in.
Didn't Jimmy Hall have a moderate-siz e d solo hit, something like "I'm Happy That Love Has Found You." Anyway, I e-mailed Pandora months ago about adding more Wet Willie and Hall solo stuff to their inventory.
Ah, "Trust in the Lord" and "Don't Wait Too Long"!
I downloaded the first album recently from the late, great SpiralFrog (sniffle)
Hearing these songs again brought me to a realization of the seeds they planted in my life about 34 years ago; about a year later I knelt at the foot of the cross for the first time and I did indeed Trust in the Lord; He changed my life and I never looked back. Amen, cherylspudwd a n , thank you Lord for Wet Willie!
johnnyreb310 2 3
Good ol' Macon, Georgia boogie. Grant's Lounge, Capricorn Records and Central City Park. Oh what memories.
panozvan
Wet Willie band is one of a kind. I have most of their CD's and one of Jimmy's
solo CD's. Would you please add "She caught the Katy, Red Hot Chicken" your play list:
Lister-jag
thank You, Lord for Wet Willie
Jimmy often sits in with Stillwater (yes, the real Stillwater) at Whiskey River during their annual Christmas reunion shows. Check WR's
webb site around Thanksgiving to see if they will be playing this year. Ronnie Hammond of Atlanta Rhythym Section is usually there as well as other local players from Doc Holliday and the Capricorn Rhythym Section. You can usually count on Paul Hornsby (poducer for Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker, etc.) to show up and play keys as well. At other times of t
I loved If Grits Aint Groceries... . . . .
Heh, they were one of the best in coutry blues and rock. I'm from Pascagoula, Ms.and used to watch em play at Johnny's Smoke House! Steve Fisher
playimstills m i l i n g .

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