There he was on stage, dressed in a red satin suit: the 82-year-old veteran showman Willie Jones. He was in his element performing Friday night at Detroit A Go Go 2018, four live shows of ventage Detroit performing artists at Bert’s Warehouse in Detroit’s Eastern Market. The event was produced by Brits Phil and Kim Dick of the Northern Soul music movement. It attracted a huge audience from the U.K. and Detroit.
I took a quick pic of Willie and a few of his old friends. L-R, Jimmy Child and Yvonne Vernee of the Elgins, Willie Jones and Pat Lewis. Pat had coordinated all the entertainer rehearsals and would perform the following evening. I interviewed Pat last year. She was as gracious and energetic as ever. https://www.davidclementsproductions.com/detroit-go-go-part-2/ .
About a year ago I spoke with Willie in the basement of the modest Detroit home that he shares with his present wife.
The space serves as a recording studio and CD duplication center, and the walls are lined with print promotion and photographs that track his history.
Willie migrated to Detroit with his family at age nine. “I always wanted to sing. I built a stage in my back yard.” He sang in the North Liberty Baptist Church choir with future recording artists Della Reese, Jackie Wilson, Laurie Lee and Little Willie John.
In 1954, at 18, Willie Jones and The Royal Jokers signed with Atlantic Records. He later had to turn down a Motown contract offered by Berry Gordy. In 1955 the group recorded You Tickle Me Baby. Willie left the group for a while, and his first solo recording was Fast Choo Choo. The mid 1950s thru the mid 1960s were the best years of his performing career. He continued to record modest tunes, and wrote the B side of Bettye LaVette’s first recording.
Through the 1970s and 1980s he continued to tour, became a father of 10, and was a successful Detroit businessman. He owned eight fish markets, three bars, and a series of after-hours joints. “I was making $4-5,000 a night. Man, I was on a roll.”
In 2014 Willie released Fire in My Soul, an EP with four tracks on UK’s Cherry Red Records. “Willie Jones is the secret heart of Detroit Soul, and now that secret is out,” says Cheetah Chrome of The Dead Boys.
Willie, who’ll be making his U.K. debut, and fellow Detroiter Carolyn Crawford have been announced as the headline acts for the 2019 6T’s Cleethorpes Rare and Modern Soul Weekender on England’s North Sea coast.