Willie Mallory cut his first 45 for his local Tifton, GA Jim Bar label before he was 16. The original “I’ll Be Your Jim” is a lively if rather underproduced number, and label owner/manager James Theus took an ad out in Billboard saying “Young singer in the style of Sam Cooke looking for recording deal” to try to get more attention for his talented young protégé. Lee Lavergne answered and signed Mallory to Lanor.
His first 45 for the label The Loneliest Man In The World is a rather fine piece of swamp pop featuring Katie Webster on the tasteful piano, but despite the appeal of this sort of music there is nothing to distinguish it from so many other numbers using the same classic chord progressions.
But when Lavergne took Mallory to Muscle Shoals it was a completely different story. Lean On Me is a masterpiece of southern soul. It’s a deep soul ballad in the grand manner, complete with all the trimmings of horns, keyboards and guitar work that make recordings from that location such a continuing joy. But what makes this song so special is Mallory’s vocal. The way he stretches out his delivery of the verses, almost lazily emphasising the main words is a masterclass in delay singing. Quite superb. The subtle key modulation is beautifully done.
For his final 45 for Lanor Lavergne remixed and lengthened “I’ll Be Your Jim” adding a restrained horn section as well but even this reworking of a familiar number didn’t do it for Mallory. He reappeared in Florida in the early 70s recording a pleasant duet with Barbara Davis but I’m not aware that he recorded after that. Even so he’s left us with one stone piece of brilliance – so much more than so many other more successful artists ever manage.
UPDATE ~ Hasse Huss has kindly written to remind me of Willie & Barbara Reid's World 45 which I have added to the discography.
NEW UPDATE ~ I'm very pleased to say that family and friends of Willie have been in touch too, with news and info. Willie and Barbara Davis were married at the time of their TK recording, and Willie is alive and well in Miami, living in a managed care facility. I'm sure we all wish him well.
Faithful / I'll be your Jim ~ JIM BAR 513 (1966)
Hello / Loneliest man in the world ~ LANOR 531 (1966)
Lean on me / Faithful ~ LANOR 536 (1967)
You went back (on what you said) / I'll be your Jim ~ LANOR 539 (1968)
I can love / I feel like lovin’ ~ TK 1002 (1973) (with BARBARA DAVIS)
Sleep with me / I wanna do you ~ REID'S WORLD 9002 (1977) (with BARBARA DAVIS)
Note ~ The Lanor cut of "I'll Be Your Jim" can be found on the fine Zane UK CD "The Lanor Records Story" (ZNCD 1009).