Chuck Willis – The Songs of Chuck Willis: From the Bottom of My Heart 1951-1961 (Jasmine 3075)
2CDs, 50 tracks, very highly recommended
Chuck Willis was one of the pioneers of R&B/Rock ‘n’ Roll, although he’s not as heralded as Ray Charles or Hank Ballard, partly because he died at age 30 in 1958. Willis racked up a good number of hits as both Blues shouter and balladeer, with his two biggest being the definitive version of “C.C. Rider” in 1957 and “What Am I Living For” in 1958. As a singer, Willis acquits himself superbly on the aforementioned songs as well as “My Story”, “I Rule My House”, “Going to the River”, “You’re Still My Baby”, “I Feel So Bad”, “It’s Too Late”, and “Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes”. But perhaps the key to Willis’ legacy lies in his prowess as a songwriter; it’s his songwriting skills that are paid tribute to on the second disc (the first being devoted to Willis the singer) with versions of “I Feel So Bad” cut by Elvis Presley, “It’s Too Late” cut by Buddy Holly & the Crickets and Charlie Rich, “My Story” delivered by Lula Reed, and “What Am I Living For” sung by Ernest Tubb. And these are just a few examples of the diverse number of artists who cut his songs; and the range is staggering, with Pop, R&B, doo wop, Country, and rockabilly performers all taking a crack at Willis’ wares. And while this collection of Chuck Willis work isn’t definitive, it does give a good insight into what made him so important to the early days of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the salad days of R&B.