(Dan Ubick, serious musician from Rhythm Roots All Stars, Connie Price and the Keystones and The Lions, has played with Ghostface and Slick Rick among so many others, recording for Blue Note, Ubiquity, Tru Thoughts, and Stones Throw along the way. In his spare time he also writes (I worked with him on this Richard Evans piece) but he’s a music head above all things. A guitarist who transitions between different genres, he’s apparently, at heart, a bluesman. Here’s his thoughts on Little Willie John’s ‘I Need Your Love So Bad’. – DM)
‘I Need Your Love So Bad’ by Little Willie John
“I Need Your Love So Bad” by Little Willie John is to my ears absolutely the most perfect song ever (a huge claim I realize… but true.). This recording contains the most heart wrenching and captivating vocal take I personally have ever heard committed to tape (and I’ve listened to a couple records at this point like most of you reading I’m sure!).
The lyrics, apparently written by Willie John’s brother Mertis John Jr, (their sister was Stax and Motown artist Mable John) are the kind of lyrics that you never forget. Willie John’s well-worn and perfectly loose delivery draw you in like a good friend sharing his troubles with you personally. A voice of wisdom, longing and truth we can all relate to.
“I need someone’s hand to lead me through the night, I need someone’s arms to hold and squeeze me tight. When the night begins and until it ends…I need your love so bad.”
I first heard this particular song in a movie called “Wonder Boys” with Michael Douglas and Frances McDormand (pretty good movie about a writer/college professor -Michael Douglas- who’s first novel was a huge success and is now only finding his muse in the joints he keeps in the ash tray of his old car. Robert Downey Jr. plays his very patient literary agent. ) bugged out about how good it was and have been searching out his music ever since. The only LP I have been able to find at this point is an LP called “Free At Last” which has most of his hits (“Fever”, “Leave My Kitten Alone”, etc.). I found it at the incomparable Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis! (MY record store!..stay away!! It’s not very good anyway….:)
Getting back to the man…..Willie John was of course a huge influence on James Brown, which is where I first heard his name. The Godfather of Soul was always talking about what respect and admiration he had for Willie John in interviews, etc. I guess that means Little Willie John is the GREAT Godfather of Soul?. I found out recently that Willie John has also been a huge influence on my buddy Gabe Roth and his production for the latest couple Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings LP’s, which I don’t find surprising as Gabe has great taste and makes great sounding records!
You know when a song’s arrangement and performance just makes the tune seem effortless? (“At Last” by Etta James or “We’re A Winner” by The Impressions/Johnny Pate are other good examples). The general production on this song is just so full with only four instruments and a singer showing us once again that there is no match for a well rehearsed song, talent, good mic placement and mic pre’s all going straight to tape.
I could keep trying to get all academic on you about how the blues based chord changes work so perfectly and couldn’t have been arranged any defter. ;) How the rhythm section on this track (drums, piano and double bass and an unbelievable guitar player who after years of listening is still a daily lesson!) are working together to sublimely and seemingly effortlessly support the song. BUT…. this song is just one of those songs that’s like a great memory you hold onto all your life, like a woman that you’re not sure you’ll ever completely figure out (would you want to?).
Now I’m a self admitted music fanatic and collector and my wife thinks I have too many records in my studio (and not to sound overly dramatic) but I think I could almost give away every other LP I own and be happy with just this one. I NEED to hear this song at least once a week. – Dan “Connie Price” Ubick
**If any of you friends out there can offer any more in depth information regarding the musicians on this tracks (especially who the guitar player is!) I would be indebted.
7 thoughts on “Little Willie Needs Your Love (so bad)”
Willie John DID write “Need Your Love So Bad.” He gave the song to his brother Mertis, he was generous that way, and Mertis did collaborate with him on it. But later Willie wrote to his wife that when he did that, he didn’t think ahead to a day when he’d have a family of his own who would need the money.
The story is in my biography of Willie just out, “Fever: Little Willie John’s Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul” — Titan Books, Random House distribution in the U.S.
p.s. After a discussion with Willie’s family, Mertis restored partial credit to William Edward John on the song, so going forward it’s a 50/50 split.
I am so glad I checked this blog today! I hadn’t checked in since I wrote it. Anyway, YESTERDAY I went to the public library with my kids and excitedly saw your new book!!!! I am half way through already and eating it all up. Wow. Thanks so much for all of your hard work uncovering the story of Willie John. His music has absolutely floored me since I first heard it and am so grateful to hear the story of his life. Cheers for so many questions answered…. all my best, Dan Ubick, Los Angeles, CA
And Mickey “Guitar” Baker is an absolute genius on the guitar. :) DU
thanks for sharing susan, super informative. i’ll take a look at the book too. how long, if i may ask, did the entire process take?
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