Willie Littlefield : The Moon Is Rising ©2000JCMarion
Willie Littlefield was born near Houston, Texas, in September of 1931. Under the influence of of elders in his Baptist church, he learned the rudiments of piano and guitar. In his early twenties he honed his musical talents at some neighborhood night spots such as the El Dorado, and soon recorded his first sides for the local R & B label in Houston, Eddie's Records. Some of these releases were : #1202 - "My Best Wishes" / "Little Willie's Boogie"; #1205 - "Chicago Bound" / "What's The Use"; and #1212 - "Boogie Woogie". A regional hit for Littlefield was 1948's "Littlefield's Boogie" on the Freedom label, #1502. By the year 1949, Willie had moved on to Los Angeles and soon hooked up with R & B powerhouse label Modern Records. "Midnight Whistle" and "It's Midnight" on #686 is his first for the label. "Farewell" and "Drinkin' Hadacol" followed on #709.
Now known as "Little Willie" Littlefield, he recorded one of the very first Modern Records 45rpm recordings in late 1949, "The Moon Is Rising" and "Frightened" on #726. The record becomes an immediate hit in the Los Angeles area leading to a great amount of bookings in the Southern California region. In March of 1950 Modern #729 - "Rockin' Chair Mama" is released. Little Willie becomes part of the touring Big Four R & B Revue, along with Jimmy Witherspoon, Camille Howard, and Joe Liggins. This blockbuster show does big box office on the West coast. New Orleans reports big sales for "Rockin' Chair Mama". Willie gets good sales in varying local areas but cannot seem to get it all together to give him a big national smash. This pattern continues with his next side for Modern #747 - "Tell Me Baby" and "Why Leave Me Alone" which develops into a local hit in the city of Detroit. Over the late summer "Happy Payday" on Modern #754 is a good sized seller in Los Angeles. In September Willie rejoins Joe Liggins for a show at the Elks Hall in L.A. In October Modern Records announces plans for a R & B LP album to feature Littlefield. That same month Modern releases #775 - "Hit The Road" and "Trouble Around Me". The latter part of 1950 produces two more records by Willie for Modern - #785 - "Merry Christmas" and "Come On Baby"; and an R & B duet with Little Lora Wiggins on "Ain't A Better Story Told" and "You Never Miss A Good Woman (Until She's Gone)" on #781.
The year 1951 opens with a good showing for the duets with Wiggins in Littlefield's hometown of Houston and other parts of Texas. Willie tours the West coast with Mickey Champion and Jimmy Grissom. Modern #801 features "I've Been Lost" and "I Once Was Lucky" which breaks out in the bay area of San Francisco and soon gets going in Texas. Willie Littlefield is slated to take part in the very first all Black radio broadcast set to go on the air from Hollywood over the Mutual Broadcasting Service. Willie hits the road to his home state of Texas with Mickey Champion, Jimmy Grissom, and Smokey Lynn. In the fall Modern #837 is released with "Mean Mean Woman" and "Lump In My Throat" which again starts off big in the San Francisco area. The last record release of the year for Littlefield is #854 - "A Life Of Trouble" and "It's Too Late For Me".
In 1952 Willie makes a big change as he leaves Modern Records after almost three years and moves to Cincinnati based King-Federal Records. He wastes no time and immediately does a recording session with Lil Greenwood on "Monday Morning Blues" and "My Last Hour" on Federal #12082. Despite the label change Willie still records in L.A. with sidemen including Maxwell Davis and Wardell Gray. During the summer Federal #12101 is released - "Blood Is Redder Than Wine" and "Sticking On You Baby" followed by #12108 - "Last Laugh Blues" with Little Esther. In late 1952 the most famous record by Little Willie Littlefield is released on Federal. It is "K.C. Loving" on #12110. It was not his biggest seller, but this song is the genesis and original version of the song better known as "Kansas City" which was a world wide hit for Wilbert Harrison in the late fifties and in modified versions by Little Richard and The Beatles in the sixties. The flip of #12110 was "Pleading At Midnight".
In early 1953 "K.C. Loving" is a huge hit in L.A., but again Willie does not get the national recognition he deserves. In March Federal #12115 is released, and again it features a duet on the blues with Little Esther - "Turn The Lamp Down Low". The pairing of "Jim Wilson's Boogie" and "Sitting On The Curbstone" on #12221 is followed in July #12137 - "The Midnight Hour Was Shining" and "My Best Wishes And Regards". In October Willie is a big hit in person at L.A.'s 5-4 Ballroom, and then heads off to Texas with Wardell Gray and his combo. "Miss K.C's Fine" and "Rock-A-Bye Baby" is released on #12148. Willie ends the year with a big R & B show at the L.A. Elks Hall along with Linda Hayes and Peewee Crayton.
The year 1954 begins for Littlefield with a new Federal Records release of "Don't Take My Heart Little Girl" and "Please Don't Go (Oh-Oh-Oh) on #12163. In March Federal follows with 12174 - "Goofy Dust Blues" and "Falling Tears". During the middle months of the year Willie spends most of the time making appearances in and around Kansas City. He spends the month of December in San Diego doing shows with Redd Foxx and the Rockin' Brothers. The Rhythm & Blues Parade is a touring show that plays up and down the Pacific coast during the first half of 1955. It is one of the last big true R & B tours and along with Willie Littlefield are Peewee Crayton, Daddy Cleanhead (Eddie Vinson) and the Chuck Higgins Combo. Federal Records drops Littlefield as sales fall off during the rise of rock 'n roll in the mid fifties, but he continues to be a good draw on the in person circuit. In February of 1956 he takes part in a big show put together by jazz (usually) producer Norman Granz called the 1956 Rock 'N Roll Jubilee. Along with Littlefield the show features B.B. King, Shirley Gunter, the Medallions, Dreamers, Richard Berry, and many other West Coast based performers. Willie is featured on "Ruby Ruby" and "Easy Go" on Bull's Eye Records #1005 (also released on Rhythm #108) released late in 1957 and early the next year sells well enough to get on the best seller charts in San Francisco. He also recorded for the small independent label Argyle.
By 1958 Littlefield realized that the chance of having a hit record was stacked against him, and so he concentrated on his live performances. In March of 1959 Federal Records re-released "K.C. Loving" as "Kansas City" coupled with "The Midnight Hour Was Shining" on #12351. The next month it is shifted to the King label with the same r3elease number. He remained a good draw in the bay area and so he remained a fixture in the San Francisco-Oakland area for the next two decades. He played clubs, theaters, and festivals for many years and remains mostly unknown outside the bay area by younger listeners. His signature tune remains "K.C. Loving" and its history, although Littlefield remains a footnote in R & B history. Search out his early recordings for a sound intro into the music of this vital performer.
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