Graham Reid | | 1 min read
R'n'b singer/songwriter Little Willie John -- born in Arkansas in '37, raised in Detroit and perhaps best known for his crossover hit Fever which Peggy Lee famously covered -- clocked up more than a dozen songs on the US Billboard charts in his short recording career which effectively only ran for about five years until the very early Sixties.
Booze was his downfall and in '66 he was imprisoned for manslaughter after a stabbing in Seattle and in fact died in prison in '68. He was just 30 years old.
Among the songs he covered were the lovely Cottage for Sale which he gave a typically smooth and confident treatment in front of powerful strings, and the soulful Let Them Talk by Sonny Thompson which includes lines which Bob Marley lifted for his Soul Rebel ("let them talk . . . talk don't bother me").
And this wee r'n'b rocker which was beloved by the young Beatles who learned it quickly and added to the repetoire in Hamburg and Liverpool.
Perhaps John Lennon -- who sang it -- could get behind the tough sentiment: he would later admit to being "a jealous" guy" who "used to be cruel to my woman", warned YOu Can't Do That and on Rubber Soul wrote Run For Your Life which borrowed from Elvis' Baby Let's Play House the lines "I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man . . ."
The Beatles were in fact so enamored with it that when it came to get another album out in time for Christmas in '64 -- what would become Beatles for Sale -- they even went back to it because, short of original material and pressed for time, they just needed filler they knew they could knock off. As they did with other songs on that album, the weakest of their career.
Leave My Kitten Alone didn't make the final cut -- pity, it was far superior to their other covers and confirmed them as a raw rock'n'roll band -- but did appear on the first Anthology album in '95.
The following year Little Willie John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This song is lifted from a vinyl compilation 15 Hits by Little Willie John which was in a box of wonderful old vinyl sent to me by an Elsewhere subscriber. Thank you Joeke, I am working my way through the pile and more such songs will appear from your generous gifts at From the Vaults in the near future.