“Fever” & Strings: Little Willie John Gets the Last Word

1995’s King R&B Box Set yielded a couple other rarities in addition to Hank Ballard’s unreleased piece of mod soul – such as this rare strings version of Little Willie John’s biggest (and hugely influential) hit, “Fever”:

Somewhere in my archive of Mojo back issues there’s a small piece with Dr. John recounting his days under the tutelage of Cosimo Matassa at J&M Studios in New Orleans and mentioning that “Fever” – recorded March 1, 1956 at the King studios in Cincinnati – had a particularly great drum sound that was envied at the time.

Fever - Little Willie John LP

“Fever” – written by Eddie Cooley & Otis Blackwell and recorded first by Little Willie John – has been covered by a diverse array of artists from Peggy Lee, Elvis, and Ray Charles to The Jam, The Cramps, and Tom Verlaine.

“Big Blue Diamonds”: Early 70s Resurgence

I first encountered the song, “Big Blue Diamonds,” as covered by Little Willie John in 1962, from a Starday-King cassette entitled Country Tunes Done R&B.Country Tunes Done R&B.jpg

“Big Blue Diamonds” was penned by Earl “Kit” Carson and first issued on a 1950 King 78 sung by Red Perkins. Tex Ritter also put out a version that very same year.  Jimmy Dean covered it in the mid-50s, Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs in the mid-60s.

And then in the early 70s, a relative flurry of versions:  Arthur Prysock and Gene Summer both put out singles in 1971, while Mel Street and Ernest Tubb released honky tonk versions the following year.  1972 also saw the release of Jacky Ward‘s country top 40 hit version on the Target label – check out the naff piano, pedal steel & vibraslap opening:

“Big Blue Diamond”     Jacky Ward     1972

Jerry Lee Lewis would also record the song in 1973 on his Southern Roots album.