Blame it on the Blues or blame it on the shifting sands of musical taste even back in the 50s - folks have always been fickle. But though Willie Headen never made that break through to stardom he left behind a fine and varied body of work in his five year on-off-on stint with Dootsie Williams’ Dootone and Dooto labels (not to mention the Authentic imprint). It’s as if there was a deliberate conspiracy to confuse future discographers as Willie Headed or even Hayden, never mind Clifford Chambers (don’t ask) turned up on Dootsie’s various labels, often with the same record.
But Willie obviously took it all in his stride and his debut recordings from ’54 display a highly understated approach to the blues, with a nice line in shuffle rhythms. His first release was one side of a two act 45, which featured the Penguins debut on the flip and we all know what happened with them. So Willie’s next outing a couple of years later hooked him up with the 5 Birds, all four of them, and they cut a wonderful gospel-tinged, fast-moving doo wopper called I Wanna Know. He cut another three sides with his ornithological friends, but it was really as a sophisticated blues singer that he excelled. Having said that, both Fun On Saturday Night aka Everything’s All Right and Turn The Hi Fi Down (pesky kids) showed he could be as rockin’ as the next guy.
Singles continued to be issued through 1960, when a bunch of them were compiled into the, now much sought-after “Blame It On The Blues” LP. In keeping with the rest of Willie’s varied career, several of the cuts on the LP were alternates to the issued 45s, so once more those discographers, and indeed the compiler, had to be on the case.
Willie quit the music business in 1959 when he married (47 years later, it’s still going strong). In ’69 he returned for some sessions on Kent, which we will be getting to soon. Although they are fine soul recordings they didn’t manage to remove Willie from his original occupation. When Dootise Williams first found Willie he was working as a shoe-shine man at a barbershop on 103rd Street, and when sleeve note scribe Jim Dawson hooked up with him he was shining shoes in the lobby of a Wilshire Boulevard office building in West Los Angeles.
It wouldn’t be a Dootone release without a mystery. Dootsie Williams ran a short-lived 1200 series of 45s. According to the ledgers #1204 was I Caught You Tippin’ In b/w I’m Still Getting My Licks by Willie Headen. Well we found a tape of the top deck, but no sign of wax nor acetate on I’m Still getting My Licks. So if you have that one copy in existence please let us know. We’d love to arrange to hear it.
By Roger Armstrong