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Wee Willie Walker interviewed by Heikki Suosalo (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

  The Porretta Soul Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in Italy this July.  Once again outstanding music, appreciative audience and warm Italian nights met in a friendly atmosphere.  During the four nights we could enjoy over 22 hours worth of music, not to mention many daily concerts ( 

  In my first Porretta article this year, after a brief survey of those evening concerts, I include my update interviews with Wee Willie Walker and Anthony Paule.  I won’t review Willie Hightower’s, Falisa Janaye’s or Ricky Fanté’s performances this time, because there’ll be separate features on them later on.


  A regular visitor to Porretta, the Sweethearts ( ), which is a self-contained Australian orchestra consisting of 20-30 energetic young ladies, opened up the show on Thursday with over one-hour set.  They were followed by the Italian-British Gaudats Junk Band (, which - with the remarkable Porretta MC, Rick Hutton, as their frontman – performed four songs, including Land of 1000 Dances and ElvisA Little Less Conversation.  After the Lucilles ( out of Madrid with pop-rock, funk and even reggae in their program, the Original JB’s Rhythm Section closed the night and invited Martha High ( on stage for the last 30 minutes to “make it funky” and “praise the Lord.”

  On Friday evening the opening act was the Original JB’s featuring Fred Wesley on trombone, and they stayed on stage for about one hour and a half.  As expected, the music was mostly horn-heavy and funky, but there were a couple of down-tempo moments, too, such as Cynthia Moore singing It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World and Martha High on Try Me.

  After a small break the hard-working, excellent house band, The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra out of San Francisco, took the stage and – Davell Crawford’s two solo sets aside – practically provided the music for each artist until early Monday morning.  Again a female trio called Sweet Nectar took care of the background vocals and two of the ladies – Loralee Christensen and Sue McCracklin – stepped forward for solo spots.

  Between Falisa Janaye and Willie Hightower (both will be featured later), the stage was occupied first by Scott Sharrard (, a guitarist-vocalist with a strong rock leaning, and then by LaRhonda Steele and King Louie out of Portland (, who aroused the crowd with four numbers, including Take Me to the River and Rock Me Baby.  “The world’s most recorded drummer”, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie ( joined LaRhonda for an emotional rendition of A Natural Woman.  Later still Rob Paparozzi ( was invited to play harmonica and sing with them three songs, including Hold on I’m Coming.

  Tagged “Queen of Beale Street Blues”, Barbara Blue ( sang in her aggressive “shoutress” style six songs, some from her latest CD but also a slowed-down version of Heartbreak Hotel.  The final vocalist of the night was Dorothea Kearns aka Toni Lynn Washington, and her 4-song set included a lot of long solos from the band members.  The only slow number was her version of William Bell’s Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday.

Terrie Obadi at Porretta (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)


  Davell Crawford ( hails from New Orleans and he entertained us by singing mostly N.O. related songs and playing Yamaha Motif for the first hour on Saturday evening.  After Anthony Paule had set up his orchestra, played a jazzy instrumental and Sue and Loralee (Stay with Me) sung their numbers, a surprise guest hit the stage.  Terrie Odabi ( flew in on Saturday directly from France, and she simply amazed us all with her stunningly deep rendition of Drown in My Own Tears

  Vasti Jackson ( had helped Davell Crawford already earlier in the evening with Georgia on My Mind, and now in his own tribute to Johnnie Taylor he brought out the real showman in him (Who’s Making Love / Take Care of Your Homework / Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone / Stop Doggin’ Me / Cheaper to Keep Her/ Last Two Dollars). 

  Following Wee Willie Walker (see below), Solomon Burke’s son Selassie - who had been a guest of honour in the inauguration of the Solomon Burke Bridge earlier that day in Porretta Terme - entered the stage to sing Try a Little Tenderness and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.  Born in 1972, Selassie was the one, who first found his father’s tape of a live recording from 1981 and asked to play with it in the studio, to change it from 2-track to multi-track.  That turned into a Soul Alive! album on Rounder in 1984.  Later Selassie co-produced with Solomon his 1987 LP, Love Trap, co-wrote a few songs on ensuing CDs and toured with his father before going out on his own.

  Ricky Fanté closed the evening, but prior to that two of Rufus Thomas’ daughters, Vaneese ( ) and Carla hit the stage.  One slow blues aside, Vaneese’s set consisted mainly of uptempo material with John Fogerty’s The Old Man down the Road and Willie Dixon’s/Howlin’ Wolf’s/Koko Taylor’s Wang Dang Doodle being the two concluding numbers.  Carla followed with B-A-B-Y, Little Red Rooster and Something Good, and the sisters closed their spot with Rufus’ The Memphis Train and Walking the Dog.

  As Rick Hutton would exclaim: “One more time!”  Sunday is the day, when almost all of the artists come together again and sing once more their most famous songs, as well as possibly introduce some new material.  Like on Saturday, Davell Crawford was the opener and this time his 7-song set included Something You Got, Ain’t That a Shame, Danny Boy and Iko Iko, which his grandfather, James “Sugarboy” Crawford, wrote and recorded under the title of Jock-A-Mo.  Next Anthony Paule himself burst into a song, but right after that he invited Sue McCracklin to do his father’s (Jimmy McCracklin) Checker number from 1958, The Walk, and Loralee to sing Reverend Lee. 

Selassie Burke (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)

  Scott Sharrard, Barbara Blue and Rob Paperozzi came out next, but perhaps the finest hour for me during the whole weekend followed right after 10 pm, when Willie Hightower, Terrie Odabi and Wee Willie Walker one after another sang their heart out and filled the park with deep soulful sounds.  Terrie delivered Will You Still Love Me and a fast song with a message titled Gentrification Blues and still an intense duet with Wee Willie on When Something Is Wrong with My Baby.

  After this incredible hour Vaneese and Carla repeated some of their numbers from the night before, and - after LaRhonda Steele and Rob Paparozzi - Selassie Burke rendered Meet Me in Church and Don’t Give up on Me.  After Falisa and Ricky, Sax Gordon, Toni Lynn Washington and Vasti Jackson followed, and this time the ten-minute grand finale with all the artists coming together on stage was built around the speeded-up arrangement of Bring It on Home to Me.

Wee Willie and Heikki Suosalo (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)


  We met with Willie for the first time in Porretta two years ago, and you can read about his history in music at  His CD, If Nothing Ever Changes (in 2015), met with critical acclaim and was a worldwide success.  In 2016 he received two Living Blues Awards: in Critics’ poll he was chosen the Comeback Artist of the Year and in the category of New Recordings/Southern Soul his album became the winner.  Willie: “After that I’ve become more active.  I wish I could say I’m enjoying myself, but I’m not really, because... I’m enjoying myself anyway” (laughing).

  Two CDs with Willie’s involvement in them came out in 2016.  First there was The Soul Connection by Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado (Chicoblues 2104;, which was recorded at Igor Prado’s studio in Sao Paolo.  The Austrian Raphael is on Hammond B-3 organ, Igor on lead and rhythm guitars, Yuri Prado on drums and percussions, Rodrigo Mantovani on electric bass, “Sax” Gordon Beadle on tenor & bari saxophones, Sidmar Vieira on trumpet and Lisa Andersen on backing vocals.

  “Before anything started happening, I met these guys online.  They saw my 70th birthday party.  It was a surprise party and it was filmed.  They saw it on YouTube.  They contacted me and I’ve been working with them now for almost four years, and just last year they recorded that Soul Connection.”

  Willie is the vocalist on five songs.  There’s a cover of Trying to Live My Life without You, popularized by Otis Clay, and as many as four songs we know by Little Willie John: Suffering with the Blues, Home at Last, My Love Is and Heartbreak.  “I happened to mention that I’ve always loved Little Willie John, and they said ‘so do we’, and we chose those particular songs to do.”  The other vocalists on the CD are David Hudson on Turning Point and Leon Beal on Don’t Cry No More.  The rest six tracks are instrumentals.


  The other CD is titled Live! Notudden Blues Festival (CDLVF1009;  This concert was recorded in Norway on August 5 in 2016 and released three months later on Jim Pugh’s label.  Willie is backed up by the Greaseland All Stars in the line-up of Kid Andersen on guitar, Jim Pugh on Hammond B3, Lorenzo Ferrell on electric bass, J. Hansen on drums, Martin Winstad on percussion, Rick Estrin on harmonica; Tron Taalesen, Andre Kessen, Magne Rutle and Vidar Torbjornsen on horns and Lisa Leuschner and Will Russ on backup vocals.  Mike Ranta wrote the horn charts.

  “It was kind of sneaky.  I was there with most of the guys, who recorded with me If Nothing Ever Changes, and they recorded us.  Everybody knew that we were being recorded – except me.  That’s why I call it sneaky (laughing).  But I was happy that they did it that way, because then I would have been too tense and too tired.  I wouldn’t have been relaxed.  I would have been afraid of messing something up.  Now the CD is selling very well on the internet.”

  On the fourteen tracks Willie goes through some of his most memorable songs, and for the genuine soul music lovers the gems are You Name It, I’ve Had It, There Goes My Used to Be, A Change Is Gonna Come and the deep cover of Help!

(; acknowledgements to Willie and Aarno Alén).

Anthony Paule together with Heikki (Photo: Pertti Nurmi)


  Also with Anthony I met in Porretta two years ago, and his career is documented at - please scroll down a bit.  At that point for the Anthony Paule Band it was the second year in a row to appear as the house band and now for the renamed Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra the tradition is about to continue.  Anthony: “I’ve changed the name of the band, because I realised it’s been empowering.  This orchestra can move around and back up a lot of singers.”

  The rhythm section consists of Anthony on guitar, Tony Lufrano on piano and B3, Paul Olguin on bass and Derrick “D’Mar” Martin on drums (and acrobatic jumps).  The members of the horn section are Tom Poole on trumpet, Charles McNeal on tenor sax, Derek James on trombone and – as guest musicians - Sax Gordon and Martino Beadle on tenor and baritone saxophones.  As stated above, the background trio called Sweet Nectar includes Loralee, Sue and Maureen Smith.

  For the house band it’s not only four or five hours per night playing behind various artists, you need to rehearse and write charts, too.  Anthony: “Our keyboard player, Tony Lufrano, does that.  For every song there are usually five or six parts, because you’ve got four horns and at least one is for the rhythm, but sometimes a bass part and a rhythm part.  Some of the artists supply their own charts.  Willie Hightower sent original charts from the Fame studios.  I received the original charts for Walk a Mile in My Shoes.  Unfortunately his keys have changed and we had to rewrite everything.  Other artists didn’t have full four horns.  There may be only a trumpet and a tenor, so the baritone and trombone are looking over trying to make up a new part on the spot on stage.  It was 32 songs that we wrote the charts for.  I know, because I saw the invoice” (laughing). 

  “We rehearsed Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, from ten in the morning till about 4:30 – 5 pm.  With lunch-breaks it makes about eighteen hours.  A lot of times the singer has given you MP3, but they actually do it live very different, so the chart doesn’t work.  So then Tony was up till two in the morning after rehearsals making revisions on the charts, and then I’m downstairs next morning printing 150 pages of music.  It’s a huge job, but I’m not complaining, because it’s what I love.”

  “Next after Canary Islands, Willie’s coming with us to California.  We have about four concerts there.  Then in October we go to Chicago together for a new blues festival at University of Chicago and then we go on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, and I will take Frank Bey and Willie on that.” (; acknowledgements to Anthony and Pertti Nurmi). 


  One very pleasant surprise was that a new CD titled After a While (BDR CD109; by Wee Willie Walker and the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra was already on sale in Porretta.  Its official release date is September 12, 2017.  Produced by Bruce Kaphan, Wee Willie Walker, Anthony Paule and Christine Vitale, it’s the 9th release on Anthony’s and Christine’s Blue Dot Records.  The preceding one was Not Goin’ Away.  Anthony: “We did it with Frank Bey, and it came out in 2015.  These days CDs have a very short shelf-life, because there are so many new CDs coming out.  Journalists and radio hosts forget about them very quickly.  It’s so massively expensive to do it that it’s not possible to put a CD out every year, but we manage to do it in every two years.  In the meantime we kept performing with Frank.  We did a lot of shows.”

  Willie: “I met them here two years ago, and ever since we met we’ve been working together.  We have such a good collaboration and comfortable setting.  They’re a bunch of great guys to work with.”  Anthony: “We started to talk to Willie about a year ago about it, he agreed and we recorded this at a very famous studio, Fantasy Studios.  They’ve got three different studios, and we chose a big one, where you can comfortably set up an 11-piece band.  You get from there the natural sound of the room, so we have an ambient mike to pick up the sound of the room, as well as close mikes.  I’m very, very proud of the results.”

  On the set there are thirteen tracks, and Christine Vitale (, a prolific and distinguished songwriter – as well as the project and media manager – wrote or co-wrote six songs.  Anthony: “For us our greatest gratification, besides playing music, is writing original material in a classic soul or blues style.  There are eight original songs on the album.  Some of these were written specifically for this album.  Others we had written some time ago, and for one reason or another they were never recorded.”

  One of these songs is the slow title tune with an almost late-night atmosphere, and the second one is Thanks for the Dance, a Drifters type of a pop song with a Caribbean touch to it.  A new song that Christine composed is the opener, a smooth and memorable mid-tempo number called Second Chance.  Anthony: “Willie has been recording for more than fifty years.  He was always the guy that sang great.  They called him into the studio and said ‘okay, sing this song and then go away.’  He never had a hand in writing anything and he never had a hand in producing.  This is the most involved he has been.  He’s the co-producer.  He was there during most of the overdubs and backup singing.  We do mostly all of it alive, but we overdub percussion and backup singing.”

  Willie co-wrote a punchy and horn-heavy number named If Only and an emotional soul ballad with touching lyrics called Cannot Be Denied.  Anthony: “Christine and I had started Cannot Be Denied.  It’s about a father, who finds out he has a teenage son.  It wasn’t finished yet, but I showed it to Willie, and he liked it.  ‘Let’s play with it.’  Willie pulls melodies out of the air, and all I have to do is play the chords... and all of a sudden it’s a song.”

  Hate Take a Holiday is a mid-tempo, almost gloomy song with a message.  Willie: “I wrote that with my brother-in-law about 35 years ago.”  Anthony: “His brother-in-law died about two years ago.  Christine and I wanted a peace song, because for this time it’s very important.  Willie came with this poem, started singing, I picked up the guitar and was thinking about kind of the Staple Singers groove, and that’s how that one came to be.”

  There are five outside tunes on the set.  Willie: “I redid I Don’t Want to Take a Chance.”  Willie’s original take on this George Jackson’s easy mid-tempo dancer was left in the Goldwax vaults and released only on later compilations.  A slow blues named Romance in the Dark was written by Lil Green and Big Bill Broonzy and originally recorded by Lil in 1940.  “Look What You’ve Done to Me is actually a copy I stole from Little Willie John.”  Little Willie recorded this fast and slightly jazzy jam in 1957.

  Eddie Curtis and Ahmet Ertegun wrote a fast fun song called Lovey Dovey, which was first recorded by the Clovers in 1954, but covered, among others, in 1967 by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas.  On this CD willie does a duet on the song with Terrie Odabi, and they also performed it on stage in Porretta.  The closing song, Your Good Thing (Is about to End), is Willie’s slow and impassioned cover of Mable John’s 1966 Stax single.

  Willie: “We chose those cover songs together with Anthony.  I recorded this CD about four months ago.  We’re going to do many of these songs here in Porretta for the first time.  If I want people to buy it, then I want them to hear it.”  Indeed, on Saturday evening during his 45-minute slot Willie did as many as eight songs from this set.  The only non-CD song was his jazzy rendition of the swinging Is That It?  On Sunday Willie still introduced Second Chance to public and closed his set with the emotive A Change Is Gonna Come.

  Willie: “Other than the fact that I’m an old man and I’m being blessed, I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and I’m enjoying it – every minute.  If I do another quarter, I’ll have a century” (laughing).  (Interviews conducted on July the 22nd in 2017). 

Heikki Suosalo and the the Sweet Soul Music Award (Photo: Ray Ellis)


  Once more I’d like to thank the Board of Porretta Soul Festival and Mr. Graziano Uliani for the prestigious Sweet Soul Music Award 2017 that I received on Saturday evening, July the 22nd.  It feels good to know that one’s 45-year long work in press and radio to promote soul music is appreciated.  Thank you!

© Heikki Suosalo

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