Jimmy Hall - vocals, saxophone, harmonica; Mike Duke - keyboardist, vocals; Marshall Smith - guitar; Theophilus K. Lively - drums; Larry Berwald - guitars; Jack Hall - bass, vocals
Next to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wet Willie was unquestionably one of the best bands to come out from below the Mason-Dixon line during the dawn of the Southern Rock movement. The band had a country feel to many of their songs, but paid equal respect to the classic Stax-styled soul recordings of the '60s and early '70s. The group, under the skillful guidance of rock impresario Phil Walden and his Capricorn Records label, rode the coattails of the Allman Brothers Band and found a solid home on American FM radio with memorable tracks such "Keep On Smiling."
But it was vocalist Jimmy Hall's passionate blue-eyed soul vocals that made Wet Willie such a great band. His performances during the heyday of Capricorn in 1973 and 1974 are the things legends are made of, with the band getting glowing reviews night after night. But by 1975, it was apparent that Hall and company were tired of being the second banana to acts like the Allmans and upstart Elvin Bishop at the label. In late 1975, he negotiated a move to the more powerful Epic Records, a division of Sony. With that move, he also chose to revamp the band lineup.
This recording, one of two nights recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour at New York's legendary Bottom Line club, features a healthy mix of classic Wet Willie tracks and new songs from what would become their next disc, Manorisms.
There isn't a clunker here. Hall belts out "Leona," making it an opener you can not ignore. "Country Side Of Life," a single for the band, has a country-rock style that is one of those "feel good" songs that you will hum in your head over and over again. The real passion comes with soulful ballad, "Don't Turn Me Away," by far the most powerful song of the new material. "Street Corner Serenade" borrows heavily from Bruce Springsteen-type imagery, and "Everything That 'Cha Do (Will Come Back To You)," gets funky and stays there. They close with killer versions of "Keep On Smilin'" and "Dixie Rock," keeping the Southern Rock roots deeply in place.
Sadly, the move to Epic did little for the success of the band. Manorisms got good reviews, but failed to break though with a major hit single. The band carried on for a few years and then broke up. Hall reunited with some of the original members for a new version of the band in the '90s, and continues to work as a solo singer. Today, the band works in two configurations: as Wet Willie, with Hall as the lead vocalist, and as the Wet Willie Band that has various band members doing lead vocals.