Album Reviews

Willie and The Poor Boys: Willie And The Poor Boys (Deluxe Edition) (Edsel Records)

willie

Willie And The Poor Boys
Willie And The Poor Boys (Deluxe Edition)
Edsel Records

In 1983, a handful of British rock musicians got together for a charity performance for Actions Into Research of Multiple Sclerosis, organized by Ronnie Lane, who had been diagnosed with MS in 1977. The concert featured notables such as Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, and Steve Winwood, and the overwhelming response to the concert was such that a benefit tour was organized for both Europe and America.

Wyman, who participated in the shows, enjoyed the experience, and after learning of Lane’s own financial struggles related to the disease, decided to put together a benefit to help with Lane’s medical expenses. Thus was born Willie and The Poor Boys, a 1950s-era rock and roll band, featuring Charlie Watts, Andy Fairweather-Low, Paul Rodgers, Kenny Jones, Chris Rea, Jimmy Page, and more.

As concepts go, Willie and The Poor Boys is simple, but it is a strong one. Considering most of these musicians spent their early years being influenced by and later performing these songs in settings not unlike this one, the quality of the music is rather high. The bill of fare keeps to the era, with wonderful renditions of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ And Slidin’,” Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” The Big Bopper’s “Revenue Man,” and Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine.” Their renditions are straightforward, no-frills rock and roll, performed with such passion and energy, one might think that this had been a real band. In fact, they would  turn into something of a real band; though they never released another studio album, they did, however, embark on small tours and concert appearances over the years.

This deluxe edition expands the original album to a three-disc set. The second disc is a live concert performance, taken from a 1992 performance in Sweden. The playlist features only one album track, “Baby Please Don’t Go,” but expands the repertoire with equally passionate covers of songs from the era. Their renditions of such classics as Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” Elvis Presley’s “Mystery Train” and “Hound Dog,” Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential” are performed with such gusto and flare, one can feel the intensity, the sweat, and the energy that goes along with a live show. Though not featuring the guest stars who participated the first time around, the band is still red hot, scorching through the set as if the songs were there own.

The third disc of this set is a DVD that features the Willie and The Poor Boys’ staged concert appearance of the same name, recorded at the time of the album and released in conjunction with it. This performance recreates the feel of an early 1960s British dancehall show, and is a load of fun, with an expanded live band and guest audience members including John Entwistle and Ringo Starr. The half-hour documentary goes into more detail about the making of the film; enjoyable, but Starr’s appearances are difficult to watch, as he is not a well man, being at the bottom rung of his alcoholism.  (Speaking of The Beatles, it’s interesting to note that Paul McCartney would shortly follow suit, forming his own rock and roll band, recording two dozen rock and R&B standards, which would feature several of the same musicians involved in Wyman’s project, which makes one wonder if Sir Paul wasn’t more than a little inspired by this.)

Willie and The Poor Boys was a simple concept, and this reissue shows just how much fun it all was. It was a bunch of guys getting together and reliving the experience of their younger years, an enterprise done out of love for a friend. That alone makes the album a noble cause; that it succeeds so wonderfully makes Willie and The Poor Boys an even more enjoyable listening experience.

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