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Gotta Hear This #3

Stuart Bailie | 00:17 UK time, Thursday, 18 October 2007

Stuart Bailie.jpgWhen I hear this song, I’m suddenly back at the Town & Country Club, Kentish Town in 1985. I’m not long in London and there’s a new club opened, called after a Little Eva song, The Locomotion. In those pre-Kylie days, it’s a sign that proper soul music being served. The DJ is Wendy May Billingsley, and she’s playing some tremendous tunes from the Stax and Motown labels.

willietee2.jpgIn this fine old ballroom with a sprung wooden floor, I suddenly understand the value of soul. It’s not simply something that cheesey old radio jocks play. No, the method is to get you dancing, and it keeps you up there, so long as Steve Cropper is on the guitar, while Booker T is on the keys and especially if bassist James Jamerson and drummer Benny Benjamin are doing the business.

One of my personal anthems from that club is ‘Stoned Love’ by The Supremes. I’ll tell you the intense story about that some other time. The other tune that nails it is ‘Walking Up A One Way Street’ by Willie Tee.

Willie was a New Orleans guy, barely into his 20s, when he originally recorded the song as a B side for the Nola label. His background was in jazz, but he knew the money was in rhythm and blues. He had that Crescent City style about his, able to take great liberties with the pace and the melody.

‘Walkin...’ is about losing the girl and feeling bad. He’s pleading with her to requite some of that passion, but it’s a unilateral affair. He should be breaking our hearts, but somehow the record lifts you and the horn section carries the day. Recorded in 1965, the song isn’t as sweet as Motown or as flinty as Stax. But it sure is memorable.

I come back to Willie Tee every so often, and I’ve got a neat compilation, ‘’Teasin’ you’ that summarises his early days. It's nearly all good. A decade later and he would celebrate his home town by raising the profile of the Wild Magnolias and the Mardi Gras myth. He was lashed by Hurricane Katrina and just a month ago he succumbed to cancer. He didn’t live an especially long or famous life, but he impacted on my heart, big style.

Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.

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