Wet Willie was a popular 1970s southern band, best known for their hit single “Keep on Smilin’,” a great feel-good slice of sunshine soul if there ever was one. They released several solid studio albums during their career, but they were definitely not a Top 40 “hits” act, nor were they a typical southern rock band.
Rather than adopting the country-based twin-guitar assault of Southern Rock groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Outlaws or Molly Hatchet, Wet Willie worked their musical magic within a more funky and soulful framework. Their musical roots were firmly imbedded in blues and southern soul, as evidenced by inspired original material and steaming covers of songs like Little Milton’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” Otis Redding’s “Shout Bamalama,” and Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame.”
Lead singer Jimmy Hall had great stage presence and could belt a tune with the best of them. He also played a mean harmonica and saxophone. I could never understand why he and the band never achieved greater fame. Once again, I think being pigeonholed as a “southern rock” act thwarted their progress. Certainly, you can’t fault the quality of their excellent albums or their live performances. I was lucky enough to see Wet Willie play a couple of club concerts back in the late 1970s. Their sweaty and energetic performances were mightily impressive.
Not surprisingly, their best recordings can be found on two live albums, Left Coast Live and Drippin’ Wet. Left Coast Live, released in 1977, was long a favorite of mine, but when the CD version finally came out in 1999, it sported an additional five tracks, which added over thirty extra minutes, making it even more of a gem; definitely one of the best live albums ever. And Drippin’ Wet was pretty damn good too; another single disc packed with butt-shaking songs. Although I love those live Wet Willie albums, yet more great music can be found on studio albums such as Dixie Rock, The Wetter the Better, and Wet Willie II. Get these while you can. Some titles are already out of print and going for outrageous prices online.