Mr Soul Satisfaction is Timmy Willis’ most famous track, and a very strong uptempo stormer it is too. The rhythm section give the game away from the first few bars – this is a Detroit recording. But Willis certainly isn’t one of those soul-lite performers that bedevilled so many cuts from that city. He is low down and dirty, as gritty as you could want. And writer/producer George McGregor gives him a very sympathetic framework in which to work. The flip “I’m Wondering” is slower number in a more “southern” arrangement – well worth seeking out. “Gotta Get Back To Georgia” is in a similar vein but without the memorable hook of his first release.
But good as these tracks were nothing that Willis had done could have prepared the world for his Jubilee cuts. Of course these have the inestimable advantage of the superlative Muscle Shoals musicians – especially Eddie Hinton on some lovely guitar – but the main benefit was in his vocal style. He had already showed some Otis Redding influences but in his southern recordings this tendency became much more apparent and attractive. All four cuts from the session are fine southern soul, the first release coupling the mid paced “Neveruary” with its clever if toungue twisting title and the furious I Finally Found A Woman. This is very high octane fuel – a wonderful uptempo workout propelled by Roger Hawkins furious drums, Barry Becket’s thumping piano, great horns and Willis’ own hoarse delivery, almost Pickett-like in his screams. I’d put this amongst the very best dance tracks ever cut in Alabama. But for sheer intensity and emotional charge Easy As Saying 1-2-3 is clearly the side to play again and again – if only to check out the last 30 seconds or so when Timmy really gets the feeling and the horns come in so strong and deep. Quite superb!
Willis’ final 45 for Epic was recorded on the West Caost, but the change of scene made no difference at all to Timmy’s vocals. The sparse staccato funk of “Don’t Want To Set Me Free” is way above the average for this genre but the other side is surely the preferred one. Give Me A Little Sign is a stop go ballad with a well constructed hook and he certainly gives it the full treatment, especially at the run out groove when he really cuts loose.
Timmy Willis - who came from Columbus, OH - never cut a bad track and at his best was the equal of many other more famous artists. Perhaps he will now get the attention he deserves.
UPDATE ~ Stuart Heap and Dante Carfagna have both written with details of Timmy's involvement in a Columbus, OH group called Suspicious Can Openers (!!) who cut a 45 for Mo Soul 111123 in 1971 entitled "Fever In Your Hot Pants / Tuesday In The Rain". I'm very grateful to both of them - but I can't say that the name of the group or the titles of the songs make me particualry eager to listen to the disc.
Mister Soul Satisfaction / I'm wondering ~ SIDRA 9013 / VEEP 1279 (1967)
Don't Let Temptation / Gotta Get Back To Georgia ~ VEEP 1288 (1968)
I Finally Found A Woman / Neveruary ~ 1969 - JUBILEE 5660 (1969)
I'm A Man / Easy As Saying 1-2-3 ~ JUBILEE 5690 (1970)
Don't Want To Set Me Free / Give Me A Little Sign ~ EPIC 10934 (1972)
1. The UK Jay Boy 45 credited to Willis “Such Misery” isn’t really this artist – it is an alternative take of a Precisions tune.
2. “Mr Soul Satisfaction can be found on the Kent UK CD “Kent’s Cellar Of Soul Vol 2” (CDKEND 255) and "Easy as saying 1-2-3" on the Kent UK CD "Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures Vol 1" (CDKEND 143).
3. There are rumours that Timmy Smith who cut for Starville in Chicago is Willis in disguise but his voice doesn’t sound anything like the guy here to me. Can anybody confirm?
Thanks to my friend Kevin Kiley for the suggestion.