Willie Phoenix Tribute Machine
“Hey Little Girl” b/w “Strike Up the Band”
“Willie’s skin was the color of baker’s chocolate. He sang like Wilson Pickett, wore his Telecaster upside down like Hendrix, and had Elvis Costello’s gift for cutting a pop gem. He didn’t play second to James Brown when putting on a show. He’s as good as we’ve ever seen. Who else is there? Prince? Springsteen?” – Joe Oestreich, Hitless Wonder
If you Googled the name Willie Phoenix you wouldn’t learn much. Like another “Searching for Sugarman” it seems impossible that a musician with a career spanning thousands of songs, concerts & live gigs could still remain a virtual mystery in this day and age.
This much we know: Willie was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1952 and has done NOTHING but play rock n roll since 1975. He doesn’t drink or smoke. Nobody knows where he lives. Nobody has ever had his phone number. Bandmates would wait by their phones for a pay phone call from Willie for practice and gig information. He plays a show or records a new song every night. Always.
The Willie Phoenix Tribute Machine is an attempt by Columbus, Ohio, musicians to preserve Willie’s legacy and draw attention to his enormous talents, which have inspired and entertained so many people in Central Ohio over the past forty years. Please enjoy these free cover versions drawn from Willie’s back catalog, but more importantly, catch Willie playing live or drop him a line on Facebook and let him feel your love. PLEASE send all Willie Phoenix stories, pictures, or discography info to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few words about the tunes, from Ricki C., longtime Phoenix roadie.
(For more on Willie, check out The Ballad of Willie Phoenix, on Ricki’s blog, Growing Old With Rock & Roll.)
“Hey Little Girl” – I can’t remember the first time I heard this song. I know it was from the first incarnation of The Buttons, circa early 1979 when Dee Hunt was still the drummer. (The recorded version, self-released by The Buttons on a 7-inch 45 in 1980, featured Jerry Hanahan on drums.) Willie was just putting so many new songs into the set back then, it would make your head spin. I’m pretty sure this was from a particularly Elvis Costello-inspired period that also brought “Take My Advice” into the repertoire.
“Strike Up The Band” – This was the third song I ever heard Willie play, from when I ventured out a week after The Great Blizzard of 1978 to see Romantic Noise on February 3rd, 1978. I have a heroically garbled tape of that show, made on one of those little dawn-of-time portable Panasonic cassette recorders, that I had brought to the show to interview Willie, for my punk fanzine, Teenage Rampage. (see blog referenced above) On that tape I can be heard saying – in reference to “Strike Up The Band” – “This sounds like the 1910 Fruitgum Company crossed with The Ramones.” I stand by that statement to this day in 2015. It was Willie’s early genius to cross classic pop with punk intensity into one of the greatest mixtures of power-pop I have ever witnessed.