Too Much Love

S.E.Willis and the Willing

From the politically inspired "Crawl Off and Die" to the over-the-top instrumental "Apocalypto", S.E.Willis and the Willing cover a number of classic American musical styles in an all-original mix of Blues, Country, Honky-Tonk and Zydeco.

It was 2015 and we were standing on the stage at the Blues Foundation’s Awards show in Memphis, named as Band of the Year for our work with Elvin Bishop. When my turn came to speak all I could think was: “I love this band!” We aren’t the Elvin Bishop Band anymore, but we still love making music together. There’s a lot of experience here. I’ve been a working musician for 50 years now, much of that time spent in bars in the Southwest, playing rock and roll, country and blues for the local folks. Bobby Cochran’s been at it longer than me, starting in marching bands, drum-line, and the Army band during the Vietnam years. It was the army that brought him from South Carolina to Oakland, CA to join Bobby Freeman backing Carol Doda, the original topless dancer, then the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Cold Blood, Tom Fogerty and many more. Ruth Davies is an Oakland native, born and raised, and an integral part of the Bay Area jazz scene since high school. She was in Charles Brown’s great band through the 80’s and has since worked with John Lee Hooker, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and too many others to name here. That’s the core of the band. The others: Nancy Wright, sax and vocals; Danny Caron, guitar; Bob Welsh, guitar; Marina Crouse, vocal; Christoffer "Kid" Andersen, guitars, percussion; Lisa Leuschner, vocals. I wrote all the songs here, with some help from Bobby and our friend Takezo Takeda. Some of the songs are a bit older, from an attempt to write a Honky Tonk musical set in Flagstaff, AZ (Tracks 2, 9,10, 11). The rest, beginning with Crawl Off and Die, are new, and are my attempt to deal with, mostly, love and death. It’s not beer and big-legged women, but it’s got a beat and you can dance to it. Too Much Love. As if there can ever be too much. Steve Willis May 8, 2019

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Turtle Dove Bounce

S.E.Willis

Blues and boogie, Americana, R&B and Country--solo and band, piano and harmonica; deep roots based piano and impassioned vocals.

I started working on this recording in May of 2013, at the end of 14 months of major illness. It kept me busy and allowed me to both study and pay homage to some of the great blues pianists of the early days, the men who invented the form as we know it.

  1. Cow Cow Blues – First recorded in 1928 by Charles “Cow Cow” Davenport. Fragments of this surface in many later songs, notably Ray Charles version of “The Messaround”
  2. How Long Blues – Also 1928, written and recorded by Leroy Carr and probably his biggest “hit”. Covered many times by many artists.
  3. The Vicksburg Blues – 1930. Written and recorded by Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery, one of the finest blues pianists ever, and the only one of these pioneers I got to meet in person. This is his best known piece, and he recorded it many times as both a vocal and a piano solo. It became “The 44 Blues” and is a minor Chicago standard in that form.
  4. Worried Life Blues – The newest of these songs, done by Big Maceo Merriweather in 1941. Recorded many times by many artists, notably Ray Charles and Eric Clapton.
  5. Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie – Clarence “Pinetop” Smith recorded this in 1928. He was shot and killed while playing piano not much later. This is “the” boogie standard, also known as “The Original Boogie Woogie” and “Tommy Dorsey’s Boogie Woogie”.
  6. Hard Times Coming – I wrote this for this project. I wanted to do something with the minor/major bass line, and I wanted to comment on the Depression that was still to come when a lot of this music was created. The lyric also refers to the I Ching, the Book of Changes, that teaches that life consists of continual cycles, good times to hard times, then good times and so on.
  7. Turtle Dove Bounce – This was written to provide an example of the particular boogie groove it’s based on. I wanted lyrics that might at least fit in with Leroy Carr’s songs, or others of that era. Then I started to really like it, and now it’s my favorite song.
  8. Drinking Blues – I’ve had my problems with alcohol, as did most of my fellow pianists here.
  9. The Fives – Jimmy Yancey recorded this is 1939, though he’d been playing around Chicago and influencing others since much earlier. He was a great player whose style particularly predates Roy Byrd, Professor Longhair.
  10. Baby Don’t You Leave Me No More – Also recorded in 1928. Robert Jr. Lockwood told me that Leroy Carr was Robert Johnson’s favorite. This song must have been the model for “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Dust My Broom” and many songs since.
  11. Good to Go Boogie – I came up with this and put it on my first CD, “Airn Beats Nairn” as a band instrumental. It’s taken until now for me to play it as intended, a piano solo. Live at the Poor House: This CD came about by accident, when a last minute decision to make a live recording was put in motion by Elvin Bishop and Jay Meduri from the Poor House Bistro in November of 2011. Elvin didn't end up using any of his material (it would have been on the Raisin' Hell Revue CD on Delta Groove), but I liked my sets and, after two years of intermittent work, I had it all mixed and ready for release. This is a typical live show, showcasing songs (Tipitina, Rockhouse, Mystery Train, CC Rider) that I've been playing for years and plan to continue playing as long as possible. There are a few of my songs (I would have done more if I knew I was making a record), and songs featuring other singers: Ed Earley sings "Let the Good Times Roll," Bobby Cochran covers the Meters' "Hey Pocky A-Way" and Percy Mayfield's "River's Invitation," and Elvin Bishop does Fats Domino's "Don't Lie to Me." The band here is the same band that backs Elvin on his live shows, with the addition of Nancy Wright on tenor sax. That band is: Elvin Bishop, guitar and vocals Bob Welsh, guitar Bobby Cochran, drums and vocals Ed Earley, trombone and vocals Ruth Davies, bass S.E.Willis, piano, harmonica and vocals. I don't play any accordion on this record. I think this is a really good example of my live show, and with Turtle Dove Bounce showcasing my solo work demonstrates what I do in a really thorough way. Purists will, I hope, like what I've done with the traditional blues and boogie, and those who want a party record should find plenty to enjoy in Live at the Poor House!
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Pass the Hat

S.E.Willis

Singer, pianist, accordion pumper, harmonica blower, and songwriter Steven Evans Willis often had to pass the hat to make ends meet during his early days of playing rock ‘n’ roll and country music in Arizona bars along Route 66/Interstate 40. On the self-penned title track of his fifth CD, however, the 59-year-old musician, now based in Oakland, California, tells his woman, “I’m gonna keep my cash, gonna let you pass the hat,” while holding the door for her as she walks out. He supports his impassioned wails with solid blues piano in the old-time tradition of Big Maceo Merriweather. Elvin Bishop answers with acerbic guitar obligatos and a stinging solo. Willis has been a member of Bishop’s band for the past 11 years, following stints with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and legendary New Orleans funk drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. Bishop is featured on three tracks of Pass the Hat, and his band’s superb second guitarist, Bob Welsh, plays on five more. Also from the Bishop band are drummer Bobby Cochran, upright bassist Ruth Davies, and trombonist Ed Earley. The only players not associated with Bishop are saxophonist Nancy Wright and guitarist Steve Gannon. Gannon, an Englishman long based in Oakland, is featured on the slow blues “Cancer.” “It seems like half the people I know have cancer or are dying from it or died from it,”Willis says of his reason for writing the slow, mournful blues song. Gannon himself is currently battling lung cancer. Willis’ compositions, as well as the three non-originals on Pass the Hat, reflect his amazing command of many of the main strains of American roots music, including blues, country, rock ‘n’ roll, and gospel. The blues “Black Widow” showcases his New Orleans rumba-boogie piano playing, as does his clever reshaping of the spiritual “John the Revelator” as “John the Regulator.” He recalls his formative years in Flagstaff, Arizona – where a Monday night blues jam session he launched in 1983 at Charley’s Pub & Grill continues 19 years after he relocated to Oakland – with the bouncing “I-40.” His ballad “Black Hills Gold” is especially heartfelt, as is his soulful reading of the oft-recorded “Release Me.” With his Louisiana-style piano underpinning, Willis gives the tune a refreshing swamp-pop treatment quite unlike earlier hit versions by Ray Price, Esther Phillips, and Engelbert Humperdinck. He salutes Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown with the peg-leg shuffling (as Bobby Cochran calls the beat Willis plays on snare drum) “Boogie Rambler.” Willis got the idea to do the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire” as an instrumental in order to accompany a short story about forest-firefighters (”Pyromaniac”) written by his wife, Ann Cummins. Although wonderfully eclectic, Willis’ take on American music is firmly grounded in the blues, of which he says, “It was the thing that made the most sense out of anything I heard.” --Lee Hildebrand (contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and Living Blues)

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Taproot: Songs of Robert Johnson and Hank Williams

S.E.Willis

Original and heart-felt solo and small band (piano, bass, drums, saxophone, accordion and harmonica) interpretations of songs written by two major icons of American music.

S.E.Willis’s fourth CD is a moving musical tribute to two founding fathers of American music, Robert Johnson and Hank Williams. Thirty years in the making, Taproot goes to the heart of Country and Blues roots, delivering truly original and inspired interpretations of classics. From the rocking boogie of Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” and “Last Fair Deal” to the heartbreaking intimacy of Williams’ “Mansion On the Hill,” Willis, a veteran bluesman with incredible vocal range and stylistic maturity, makes an important and memorable contribution to Robert Johnson’s and Hank Williams’ songbooks.

“I’ve been listening to and studying these men all my musical life. There are no more important voices in American music: they are the twin hearts of my country.” S.E.Willis

“…one of the most sought-after blues pianists; he covers different styles with aplomb, comps like a master, and bangs out a mean solo.” Blues Revue #84

“S.E.Willis plays like he’s got twelve fingers. He can pound the 88’s but there’s a whole lot more to him than that. He rocks, he rolls, he swings, he sings. For a complete tour of piano styles performed by a master, get Steve’s new one. What’s on my iPod? Taproot.” Marcia Ball

..a commanding singer and keyboardist (piano, organ, and accordion) who delivers classic and original material with conviction and authenticity.” Lee Hildebrand, East Bay Express

“S.E.Willis is a helluva keyboard player!” Elvin Bishop

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Luckiest Man Alive

S.E.Willis

Solo and band piano blues with strong original compositions and guest appearances by Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel and others

S.E.Willis is originally from West Virginia and has been playing the piano and harmonica since the age of six, and organ and accordion since his teens. He started playing in rock and roll bands along Arizona's stretch of Route 66 in 1967. Willis' music is deeply rooted in traditional American forms: blues, boogie-woogie, country, rockabilly, gospel, zydeco.

A veteran bandleader, S.E. (Steve) Willis has taken a supporting role in bands with such artists as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Albert King and Jimmy Rogers. He sang for three years with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and appeared on their 1995 CD "We've Come a Mighty Long Way." He worked another three years with founding Meters member and New Orleans drumming legend Joseph (Zigaboo) Modeliste and appears on his first solo release, the CD "Zigaboo.Com." Since then he has joined the Elvin Bishop Band and is featured on Alligator Records CD "That's My Partner" with Elvin Bishop and Little Smokey Smothers, recently named best R&B Record of 2000 by the California Music Awards.
Willis' music was featured in a special music/literature issue of Timothy McSweeney's, a New York based magazine, as accompaniment to a short story by Ann Cummins.Other musicians included Philip Glass and They Might Be Giants.
Steve Willis was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame in 1998. He is currently touring with Elvin Bishop and released "Luckiest Man Alive," in Spring 2002, plus his newest "Cold Hand In Mine," a more country-oriented effort, in Fall 2003.

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Cold Hand In Mine

S.E.Willis

"If Bill Monroe and Howlin' Wolf had ever played together it wouldn't sound like this, but that's got the idea, that's the aim."

A musical slice of Americana that takes a listener from the hills of West Virginia to the bayous of Louisiana, the banks of the Ohio to the Mississippi Delta. S.E.Willis' third and finest release ranges from the title track's neo-Rockabilly to Jimmie Rodgers style Blue Country (When and If), Swing (Chasin' a Train), Swamp-pop (That's My Dream), Blues (I'm Tired) and funky Zydeco (Think Twice, I'm Coming Home), with plenty of side trips between. Harmonica ace Norton Buffalo adds his talents to the unique "Poison Love." Mandolin hero Tom Rozum (Laurie Lewis and Grant Street) provides a bluegrass edge, and Johnny "V" Vernazza plays perhaps the best guitar of his career. S.E.Willis provides stellar vocal, piano, accordion, and harmonica work, while taking his strong songwriting skills into new and genre-bending territory.

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