Willie & Anthony
Willie (Hill) and Anthony (Fontaine) made several very good southern soul 45s in the 70s, in Georgia and Miami. Hill is still going strong in his home state of Georgia to this day, still making chitlin’ circuit modern soul, but Fontaine has not been heard from in a long time sadly.
Anthony Fontaine came from Texas, possible Pasadena, and judging by his writer’s credits may have really been called Earl Rhodes. Whatever, he had a rare 45 out on Souled Out at the end of the sixties, which coupled two uptempo Rhodes songs. This disc is now very rare and is in demand largely for the lively “Stop That Old Grapevine” side. It will come as no surprise to learn that I much prefer the flip How Can I Lose (What I’ve Never Had) thanks to its superior melody and arrangement and Fontaine’s better modulated vocals.
Willie Hill led a sort of wandering life until his father settled in Albany, GA in the 50s. He followed his dad’s musical talent, singing in local churches and in talent shows from a very early age. An encounter with Sam Cooke cemented his desire to be an entertainer, and by the mid-60s was touring with a band called the Sounds Of Soul. Although no recordings were issued either with the group or as a solo act, he did attend sessions in Macon and Memphis with Stax musicians and vocalists, after a long time in Europe with the US armed forces.
In fact it wasn’t till Hill hooked up with Fontaine that he got his name onto vinyl for the first time with two singles on the tiny Molly-Jo concern from his home town of Albany. They kicked the label off with the excellent deep ballad One Hand (Wash The Other) on which the counterpoint between Fontaine’s deeper voice and Hill’s higher tenor worked really well, over a classic southern soul backing. The flip “Selfish Lover” was a hi octane piece of funky soul, arranged by Chicago’s Simtec & Wylie, possibly on a trip down south.
This track, with different credits, appeared on Willie & Anthony’s second Molly-Jo 45, along with a really good version of Clarence Carter’s I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone. By some chance this was picked up by Henry Stone in Miami for his Blue Candle label. Willie Clarke was usually the writer/ producer for the label and he had a big hand with both of their other two 45s from Miami. Their initial 45 consisted of a cover of the old Rascals smash “Groovin’” with an original from Fontaine, Hill and Clarke tune I’m Tired (Of A One Way Love Affair). I really like this uptempo number, with its hints of Sam & Dave in the vocals, great rumbling guitar / bass combo arranged by Fontaine himself and clean horn section.
The duo’s final Florida 45 had what was their cream cut on the B side of their disappointing sub disco offering “Sugar Sugar Sugar”, a Fontaine, Hill, Clarke killer ballad It’s Never Too Late. This is quality classic southern soul just when it was going to be submerged in disco. The fact that this gem has had no attention at all is really scandalous in my view. Enjoy it now if you don’t know it.
Hill & Fontaine retuned to the Peachtree state, and it was almost a decade before their final 45 was issued, this time on Jesse Boone’s gallant Soul-Po-Tion. “I Feel It Coming” was a pretty strong Bobby Marchan ballad, but the synths and rock guitar on the arrangement are enough to put me off. The 45 label promised an album entitled “In A Mellow Mood” but that never appeared. Sadly that was to be the last track they recorded together as on the flip Hill was partnered by the unknown Barry Richardson. “You Can Depend” from Boone himself was an even better song, but sadly the synths were even worse.
Hill came back to the recording scene in 1994 with a fine Ichiban CD “Leaving Won’t Be Easy”. This was cut at the company’s usual KALA studio, produced by blues guitarist Theodis Ealey and Jimmy O’Neill. Several of the cuts like “Groovin’” and “I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” were makeovers of Willie & Anthony songs, but there were some fine new Hill songs such as “Lonely Room”, “Ain’t Your Fool No More” and the title track. Certainly a set no self-respecting southern soul fan wouldn’t have in their collection.
Hill’s most recent recordings were for Theodis Ealey again on his own Ifgam label. “I’m On A Mission” appeared as a 45 in 2005, and the CD with the same name in 2007. Sadly despite some fine tunes, a reprise of “One Way Love Affair” from the Ichiban set being particularly impressive, the “musicians” and the arrangements exhibiting the worst of the cheap, synthesised “home bedroom” approach make the set just about unlistenable. This is of course very sad but I’m sure we all wish Willie Hill the very best for his future career.
Stop that old grapevine / How can I lose (what I’ve never had) ~ SOULED OUT 36203 (1969?)
WILLIE & ANTHONY
One hand (wash the other) / Selfish lover ~ MOLLY-JO 1001/2 (1971?)
I can’t leave your love alone / Selfish lover ~ MOLLY-JO 1005 (1972) / BLUE CANDLE 1501 (1973)
Groovin’ / I’m tired (of a one way love affair) ~ BLUE CANDLE 1503 (1974)
Sugar sugar sugar / It’s never too late ~ BLUE CANDLE 1509 (1975)
I feel it coming / You can depend ~ SOUL-PO-TION 151 (1984) (NOTE ~ flip by WILLIE HILL & BARRY RICHARDSON)
I’m on a mission ~ IFGAM (2005)
Leavin’ Won’t Be Easy ~ ICHIBAN 1508 (1987)
I’m On A Mission ~ IFGAM (2007)
Note ~ The Willie Hill featured here is not the same artist as the writer / producer Willie Hill from the Carolinas who worked a number of artists including the Fabulous Dobbs. You can read about him here.