City Slang Reads: Fever – Little Willie John

Man, if ever there was a story that needed telling, it is that of Little Willie John. Born William Edward John, the singer had a recording career that lasted approximately six years before he was jailed for manslaughter in ’66. He died in jail in ’68.

Before that though, he recorded some intoxicating, lasting R&B music and, though he wouldn’t have known it when he passed away, he would go on to influence many (including Stevie Wonder, who wrote the foreword to this book).

If that all sounds like fantastic story material, it is and Susan Whitall, along with John’s son Kevin John, has done a spectacular job researching and recounting this incredible saga.

It’s not always pretty. At times, Fever makes for difficult reading as we read of John’s spiraling alcohol issues, eventual incarceration and death. The man was certainly no angel. However, thanks to Whitall and Kevin John, the book is a treat and at the end, while the reader is left with a feeling of “what a damned waste”, the fact that his music has lived on provides no small amount of comfort.

Ultimately, Whitall has filled what was a gaping hole in the Detroit music history books, and she’s done so with style and soul.

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