Jimmy Hall; heart, mind and soul
Special to the Sky-Hi News
Jimmy Hall is a southern boy, born and raised. It comes through in his music and his voice. It’s a part of his soul.
“My music is soulful,” said Hall, his voice sounding a bit raspy with a slight southern drawl. “I like to sing that way. There’s rock and soul within the music and the lyrics.”
Hall grew up in Mobile, Alabama, the second of six children, with a father he describes as an ‘avid record collector and music listener.’
“He appreciated it,” Hall said. “He’d call us over. ‘Sit down and listen to this. This is good. This is New Orleans blues.’”
The music made an indelible impression on young Hall. He loved to sing, something his parents encouraged.
“My parents recognized a talent in me that was nurtured and supported,” said Hall. “My mom knew I could sing, so she would encourage me from third or fourth grade to get involved in talent shows and musicals at school.”
His first performance came at age 10, when he won the lead role his school’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore.
“People were going crazy and applauding,” Hall said, laughing. “I was 10 or 11 years-old. That was the beginning.”
Hall started his first band when he was 15.
“I decided I could do it after hearing songs on the radio,” he said. “I got some guys together. One buddy plays the guitar and the other messes around on the drums.”
The fledgling musicians played small gigs around town, performing for anyone who would hire them. A short time later, Hall decided he wanted to take things to the next level. The teen harmonica player and singer teamed up with his older brother, bassist Jack Hall.
“We each had a band and we decided to work together,” Hall said. “We hand picked players, the best we could find. All the ones we knew in Mobile. There were five of us and we rehearsed day in and day out until we felt we were ready to move up in the world.”
The year was 1969 and the young musicians were looking for a new place to play.
“We were looking all over the musical map,” Hall said. “We could try New Orleans, other southern cities. Then we heard the Allman brothers. We were fascinated by that combination of blues, jazz and Gregg Allman’s soulful voice.”
Decision made. The group decided Macon, Georgia was the perfect place to realize their musical dreams.
“We moved to Macon, all these long-haired skinny white boys,” Hall said. “We found a small town, smaller than Mobile with a pretty heavy influence and history of soulful music. Little Richard, Otis Redding.”
Hall and his brother named the band “Wet Willie” after a prank they would play on each other as kids.
“If I had a penny,” Hall said, laughing. “It’s a funny name. I was trying to think of a name. Nobody had the name ‘Wet Willie.’ It was a prank we used to play on each other. We used to laugh about it.”
In 1970 the members of Wet Willie auditioned with Phil Walden of Capricorn Records, the same label that represented the Allman Brothers Band.
“We set up live in the warehouse they had, played for Phil Walden. We were the second band signed to the label after the Allman Brothers.”
Wet Willie started performing and touring, meeting other influential southern rock bands along the way.
“Marshall Tucker opened for us,” said Hall. “We arranged for them to play a club there and they got signed pretty quickly. Toy Caldwell, Tommy Caldwell, Gregg and Duane Allman. The first three bands signed to Capricorn Records all had two brothers in them.”
In 1974, Wet Willie released a fourth album, ‘Keep on Smilin’ with producer Tom Dowd. The band reached commercial success with a song of the same name.
“When that song came out it was in the Top 10 in the country for several weeks,” Hall remembers. “It was our most successful single.”
These days, Hall doesn’t tour or record quite as much, but tries to bring the same youthful intensity and soul to his music when he performs.
“I feel it all over,” Hall said. “My heart, my mind and my soul. I sweat a lot. I’m not a spring chicken, but I get involved and I try to involve the crowd. People that know how to entertain, that’s what separates the men from the boys in this business.”
Jimmy Hall will perform his unique style of soulful southern rock at the Blues From the Top Festival on June 24-25.
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