Harold “Chuck” Willis was a prolific and highly influential songwriter and recording artist, consistently scoring hits on the Billboard R&B and Pop charts from his first single in 1951 through to his untimely death at the age of 32. He began his career as a big band singer in the late ‘40s before signing a contract with Columbia Records. He completed one release with Columbia (“It Ain’t Right To Treat Me Wrong”) before moving to its subsidiary label Okeh. Over the next four years, Willis would have several R&B hits as an Okeh artist, including “Don’t Deceive Me” (which would later be re-interpreted by artists such as Little Richard, Screaming Jay Hawkins and James Brown), “You’re Still My Baby” (also recorded by Otis Redding and Ike and Tina Turner), and “I Feel So Bad” (which would go on to be a #5 Billboard Pop chart hit for by Elvis Presley in 1961).
In 1956, Willis’ contract with Okeh ended and he moved to Atlantic Records. It was here that he achieved his greatest accomplishments as an artist in his own right, becoming known as “The King of the Stroll” after his hit “C.C. Rider” (#12 Billboard Pop Chart and #1 Billboard R&B Chart) was used to promote the latest dance craze of the time. Other hits on Atlantic included “It’s Too Late” (#3 Billboard R&B Chart), which would be covered by Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison amongst others, and “What’cha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You”, a recording of which Tom Jones included on his debut album. Sadly, just as Chuck’s career seemed to be peaking, he died on 10 April 1958 as a result of peritonitis. Perhaps as a reminder of what could have been, “Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes” (#24 Billboard Pop chart and #9 Billboard R&B Chart) and “What Am I Living For” (#9 Billboard Pop chart and #1 Billboard R&B Chart), issued shortly before Chuck’s passing, were major posthumous successes.
The universality of Chuck’s music has meant that his memory has been honoured time and again by some of the finest recording artists to have lived. The list of performers to have covered his works is an extraordinary roll call including Conway Twitty, Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes, The Animals, Peaches and Herb, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, The Band, Dean Martin, Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt and in 2005, “It’s Too Late” was sampled by Kanye West in the track “Gone” that was included on his triple-platinum album ‘Late Registration’.
Kassner Music is proud to represent Chuck Willis’ catalogue in its entirety. Listen to a selection of his most popular songs and covers above.