Willie Mason is one of those rather sad figures in soul music who had enough vocal talent to get right to the top but who, for whatever reasons, didn’t quite make it. He worked mainly in the Washington, DC / Baltimore area cutting a few good records from the 60s through to the next decade. His first release may well have been the uptempo “Why” for the terminally obscure Ka-La-Ma label which has been picked up by the UK dancers. And while this isn’t the best piece of music he recorded his gruff, gravelly tone showed what a good singer he was.
Much better to my ears was his excellent deep soul ballad No Place Like Home from around the same time. This is classic southern soul with all the trimmings – 12/8 time signature, lovely guitar fills, horns – over which Willie sounds right at home. You gotta love that “ha” exclamation in the middle. Flip “My Troubles” has a charming New Orleans feel in the rhythm and horn charts – very tasty. Plus a little banjo break in the middle!
At the beginning of the 70s Mason must have spent some time with that highly entertaining DC music man Hermon Bethea, the Maskman, as his name is all over Mason's Jay-Walking 45. Sadly the repetitive "Funk Funky (Hot Pants)" is not the greatest funk track I've ever heard. The instrumental flip is a vamp led by Bethea's tenor sax man Billy Clark. Mason's next release was with the Baltomore based Fred Martin Revue cutting a single for Ru-Jac fronting Fred’s band. “Go On Back” is a solid southern soul beat ballad while the rather frantic “I Loved You Once” was also recorded by the Joys for Master using the same backing track.
In 1975 Mason recorded his other side that should be treasured Don’t Make The Same Mistakes Twice. This highly melodic ballad was a ray of light in the darkness of the disco boom. While the addition of strings softened Willie’s approach a little he still put in a fine performance, especially on the bridge with its short rap. A really super track that seems to have been the last one he recorded.
As WILLIE MASON
Why / Knock on wood ~ KA-LA-MA 101 (1967/8?)
No place like home / My troubles ~ LANTIC GOLD 103 (1967/8?)
Go on back / I loved you once ~ RU-JAC 32272 (1972)
Don’t make the same mistakes twice / Chocolate city boogie ~ JULDANE 0001 (1975)
As WEE WIILIE MASON
Funky funky (hot pants) / There she blows ~ JAY-WALKING 010 (flip credited to WEE WILLIE & B CLARK)