Little Willie John, Rock and Roll Link Cincinnati and Walla Walla

Feb 15, 2013 by

Who knew? Rock and roll brings together a lot of different things, but I never imagined it would link up these two cities. For those of you who don’t know, I have recently moved from London (in the UK) to Walla Walla, Washington and you may also have heard me talk about my good friend Randy. He sent me an email on Sunday talking  about a man called Little Willie John and how his record label, King Records, somehow magically brought the two of us just a little closer together.

This email from Randy Combs was reposted with his consent. He does magical stuff with websites, web content, and SEO through his consulting company MIRA Communications. He loves working with artists, musicians, and brands.

Don’t know if I’ve ever talked with you about Cincinnati and how it fits into the history of rock and roll… that’s for another day. 

King Records, which defines a self contained, independent record company, operated in Cincinnati, beginning in the mid 40’s. The label served under served markets: hillbilly and race records. Out of this melting pot of music emerged a number of early rock and roll pioneers and influencers.

One of the more famous acts to record here was Little Willie John. He influenced many modern day artists such as Stevie Wonder (SW inducted LWJ into RNR Hall of Fame). James Brown, who also recorded most of his great catalog in Cincinnati, strived to be like LWJ. Often, he was an opening act for LWJ. 

You’ve probably heard this song, Fever <>, but more than likely, you’ve heard the Peggy Lee or Elvis Presley version. Nonetheless, LWJ’s original version sold a million copies. He had a soulful voice <>, he could rock <> , and do R&B/blues <>

So, now that you’re wading through this, you’re thinking “what the f*** does this have to do with me?” Well, not a whole lot, but there is an interesting connection to you in this story. First, the obvious is independent music. 

Second, and not obvious, is that Little Willie John died, at age 30, in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He had been there 2 years. While he served his term, James Brown and Aretha Franklin visited him. 


Little Willie John