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Chuck Willis


Willis was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Willis was spotted at a talent contest by Atlanta radio disc jockey Zenas Sears, who became his manager and helped him to sign with Columbia Records in 1951. After one single, Willis began recording on a Columbia subsidiary, Okeh. During his stay at Okeh, he established himself as a popular R&B singer and songwriter. In 1956, he moved to Atlantic Records where he had immediate success with "It's Too Late (She's Gone)", "Juanita" and "Love Me Cherry". His most successful recording was "C.C. Rider", which topped the US Billboard R&B chart in 1957 and also crossed over and sold well in the pop market. "C.C. Rider" was a remake of a twelve-bar blues, performed by Ma Rainey in Atlanta before Willis was born. Its relaxed beat, combined with a mellow vibraphone backing and chorus, inspired the emergence of the popular dance, the stroll. Willis's follow-up was "Betty and Dupree", another "stroll" song, which also did well. Willis' single "Going to the River", a song by Fats Domino, was a prototype for his "stroll" sound, reaching No.4 on the R&B chart.

Willis, who had suffered from stomach ulcers for many years, died during surgery in Chicago of peritonitis while at the peak of his career, just after the release of his last single, "What Am I Living For?", backed by "Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes". "Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes" was actually the A side of the single but upon his death "What Am I Living For" became the most popular of the two songs. "What Am I Living For?" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. It was also the top R&B disc of 1958.

His hit, the blues ballad "It's Too Late (She's Gone)" was covered by other artists, including Otis Redding, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Freddie King, Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos and the Jerry Garcia Band. In 2005, it was heavily sampled by Kanye West on Late Registration's "Gone". Elvis Presley covered "I Feel So Bad" and "C. C. Rider" and Ruth Brown and Conway Twitty had hits with "Oh What a Dream".


Harold (Chuck) Willis (January 31, 1928 – April 10, 1958) was an American blues, rhythm and blues, and rock singer and songwriter; he was born in Atlanta, Georgia.
Willis, who had suffered from stomach ulcers for many years, died suddenly of peritonitis while at the peak of his career, just after the release of his last single, "What Am I Living For?",

 

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