BluesWax Sittin' In With
By Bob Putignano
Jimmy Hall, former lead vocalist and harmonica player for Wet Willie, has a long and varied background as a performer, including working with Capricorn Records from its early days in the 1970s. And speaking of Wet Willie, they were one of the hardest-rocking Southern bands to come to national attention. From 1971 until 1978 they produced an array of albums, but only one Top Ten hit, "Keep On Smilin.'"
Stylistically speaking, Wet Willie were a bit different than their Capricorn label-mates, and favorably compared with bands from the Stax label like Booker T. & the MGs. Wet Willie was originally called Fox when they first got together in Mobile, Alabama, in 1969. They made the move to Macon, Georgia, in the early 1970s, which just happened to be the headquarters of Capricorn Records, the company run by Otis Redding's manager, Phil Walden.
Wet Willie played an intense, very vocal-oriented brand of Southern Soul. Their first three albums did not create any fanfare, but the group's third studio release, Keep on Smilin', gave them a hit with the title track. In 1978 Wet Willie had a new lineup and contract with Epic Records. Jimmy and Jack Hall were still in the band and the result of this effort was the Manorisms album, but it never sold well. The band released one more album, Which One's Willie?, in 1979, which also did not sell well. The group broke up in 1980. In the 1990s Wet Willie re-formed, but their recording efforts have been sporadic, though they've been busy performing. In 1996 they were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and in March of 2001 they were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Wet Willie still continues to be an active performing unit. When Jimmy Hall is in the lineup they go under the original name of Wet Willie and for performances where Jimmy Hall is unable to participate they work as the Wet Willie Band, with guitarist Ric Seymour as their lead singer.
Jimmy Hall was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and with Wet Willie he toured with Rock icons such as Aerosmith, the Allman Brothers, and the Grateful Dead. Hall was later nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocalist on Jeff Beck's 1985 Flash recording. During the 1980s Hall moved to Nashville to work on a solo project for Epic Records, and has lived there since, as he found a Blues scene in a city mostly known for Country music. On his 1996 CD Rendezvous With the Blues, Hall is backed by people like Clayton Ivey on piano, former Capricorn session drummer Bill Stewart, and Dan Matrazzo on B3. On this recording Johnny Sandlin is also on board. You might recall that Sandlin is the same producer who sat behind the console on so many classic Capricorn recordings, including several of Wet Willie's. In recent years, Hall joined Hank Williams Jr.'s touring band playing sax and harmonica, and more recently Hall and Wet Willie have been doing gigs with New Orleans-based Big Luther Kent and his big band the Chickenhawks.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Jimmy Hall to talk about his illustrious past and about his new recording, Build Your Own Fire.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How you doing Jimmy?
Jimmy Hall: I am doing great and just glad to be alive and staying funky.
BW: And staying funky you are on this new recording, Build Your Own Fire, which is a great name.
JH: Yeah, it was named after one of the songs on the CD. I liked the name, too, kind of turn's up the heat.
BW: And you have a lot of the classic guys on this CD.
JH: I've been around the Muscle Shoals guys for years and had the pleasure of working with most of them on one of my solo albums, Rendezvous With the Blues, with David Hood on bass and Clayton Ivey on keys, and when we talked about putting this new record together we wanted to get some of the guys that knew and played with Eddie Hinton just to get the right sound, and I thought it all worked beautifully.
BW: How did your association with Zoho Music come about?
JH: Sort of through Bonnie Bramlett, who's an old friend and she was doing a record for the label and the head of the label [Jochen Becker] was in town to see Bonnie, so I just happened to be playing that night and he came down to see me. He loved my show; he also knew who I was, so, after hearing me, he said "I'd love to do a project with you," which was maybe two and a half years ago. His roots division is kind of small, just Bonnie and Ike Turner, so it made sense to finally sign me on. It's a cool label, sort of a boutique label, and they do a good job with distribution and promotion.
BW: And your timing is right to sign on with them especially on the heels of Ike winning the Grammy [2007 for Best Traditional Blues Album - Risin' With The Blues]?
JH: Perfect timing! [laughs] I wanted to go to the Grammy's this year; it's funny because some friends of mine were up for the same Grammy, like Tab Benoit, who was also nominated. I've known Tab for a while and actually next month he is doing a live CD and he invited me to get involved with it here in Nashville. So I'm staying busy.
BW: And Luther Kent keeps telling me that you guys go on the road together from time to time, too. Right?
JH: We have to focus on our singing together more, as we are playing together soon in Louisiana and I am bringing my group, Wet Willie, and he has that big band of his, and at the end of our sets, I love to get on stage with Luther as we do our white boy impersonation of Sam & Dave, that I think sounds so good.
Jimmy Hall's Build Your Own Fire
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JH: It's a lot of fun to sing with Luther and we are killer together! I love singing with Luther, as I've got a powerful voice and he does, too; so much so it's different for me to meet someone you can go toe to toe with, and we knock it out.
BW: And Luther's big band is quite special, too.
JH: It sure is! They got me out to Dallas to sing with them and we were a big, old soul revue that night. We kicked butt! And Luther is a great guy to hang out with as he has a million great stories to tell, too. In fact his stories should be in a book. I mean Luther has played and sang with all the great New Orleans musicians, as well as a lot of national guys who liked to stop in and sing with Luther. He has funny experiences with almost all of them.
BW: Maybe you and Luther Kent should do a CD together?
JH: I would love to do more work and record with Luther, plus I've seen what he's done as far as getting over to Europe and all, and that's my goal, too. Which is what I am hopeful that this new CD to do for me. I've toured Europe when I was with Jeff Beck, as well as in Japan. In fact we did a Japan tour a few years ago with Jeff and it was magic.
BW: I read that Jerry Wexler once described Eddie Hinton as "The Anointed One, the White Otis Redding," what do you know about that?
JH: I often think about Eddie and what he's known for. He passed in 1994; he was multitalented, an R&B icon, the blackest white guy I ever met, especially his singing. You know, kind of like me, Luther Kent, and Eddie Hinton, we all sound like black singers. Eddie just adored Otis Redding and he could emulate that sound. Eddie was also a great guitar player, songwriter, and producer, too. He left this earth before his time, but he left us with quite a legacy. I like the fact that this new record kind of carries on the tradition of Eddie Hinton.
BW: Your website is?
JH: It is www.JimmyHall.com and you can also get info about me and the new CD at Zoho's website, too.
BW: Any last thoughts that you would like me to add?
JH: I am looking forward to doing more things with Luther Kent. We just meet each other not too long ago and I wish we had met each other years ago, but we are here now and we have to figure away to do a recording project together as I am certain it will be very special. And, Bob, take me with you when you and Luther go to Italy and Oslo this summer! [laughs]
BW: I wish we could take you with us to those two separate European trips, but in the meantime I'm rooting for you and Luther to make that record together, and until that time comes we'll be enjoying Build Your Own Fire.