Willie CollinsWillie Collins

illie Collins hailed from North Carolina but by the mid 60s was in New York working professionally. My ears tell me that his obscure 45 with the Fats Gaines Orchestra for F & G is likely to have been his first record. Those lazy, easy going almost island vibes say mid 60s to me. But it was his work with that noted music man Ernest Kelley, prior to his famous relocation to Detroit, that first got him noticed Although not a full time member of the Combinations it seems clear that their 45 for Kelley’s tiny Soul-O-Sonic label features Collins’ hard edged gospel tones. The better side of this obscure piece is the doo wop influenced ballad “Please Don’t Leave Me” on which Willie’s pleading really hits the spot.

ollins also recorded as a solo act for Kelley with the rightly famous ListenTwo Lives in 1967. By then Otis Redding was such an important and successful artist it was inevitable that he would influence other, possibly less talented singers. "Influence" in some cases tripped over into "imitation" of course but singers like Johnny Soul and James Duncan kept mostly to the right side of the line.Willie Collins' "Two lives" walks a difficult tightrope. With a rhythm riff from "These arms of mine" and a horn chart that recalls "I've been loving you too long" the Otis factor scores pretty highly. What makes this a classic though is the depth and conviction that Collins brings to the song - a riveting vocal performance.

he number was penned by that very interesting back room musician Billy Nichols whose path crossed with Collins throughout the latter’s career. Willie’s excellent ListenDon’t Stop Now was another Nichols effort – and probably features his guitar as well. Even though this isn’t quite as deep as his initial release this is more very fine Big Apple balladry – and of course Collins’ vocal is impeccable.

Both Collins and Nichols were involved in a New York group called the Invaders at the end of the 60s. They moved to the Windy City, changing their name to the catchy B W & the Next Edition garnering a deal with Dakar. The pick of their sides is undoubtedly the melodic ListenChosen One co-written by Collins and arranged by Nichols, on which he again sounds just perfect – flexible and with a lovely sense of timing.

As the 70s wore on Collins took to calling himself Wil Collins & Willpower making disco music for Mercury and Bareback. Despite the unfortunate backing arrangements Collins never lost the feel and emotional power of a southern soul man – and his vocals are about the only positive things I can say about those two 45s. And this is despite the devotion of Northern soul fans to the synth led handclapping boredom of “Anything I Can Do”.

As happened so often to real soul men in the 80s Collins had some of his rougher edges smoothed over when he joined Capitol – his only chance at success with a major record company behind him. Collins and Billy Nichols contributed most of the songs and shared production duties on the “Where You Gonna Be Tonight” set, from which Capitol issued a couple of 45s. The first of these featured the easy paced quiet storm ballad ListenLet’s Get Started which resulted in Collins only chart entry. The title track was the second single but it was nothing special and sounded too derivative of so much of mid 1980s soul.

And aside from a rather ineffectual duet with Beverly Crosby that was the end of Willie Collins recordings. Throughout he remained an unheralded singer – full of gospel fire but sadly not at all successful. When last heard of he was singing gospel with a self-produced CD out since the new millennium.

We wish him all the best in his natural music home with thanks for the 45s.












Too hard to control / My love will never fade away ~ F & G 101 (mid 60s?)
ListenTwo lives / I want some satisfaction ~ GENEVA 104 (1967)
Stop in the name of love / ListenDon’t stop now ~ PANIC 102 (1972)
She’s hot / Pt 2 ~ SKYRIDE 1001 (1983)
ListenLet’s get started / Sticky situation ~ CAPITOL 5554 (1986)
Where you gonna be tonight / Girl in the corner ~ CAPITOL 5603 (1986)


Where you gonna be tonight ~ CAPITOL ST 12442 (1986)


The right perspective ~ HIS GRACE (2008)


Stay with me baby / same ~ DAKAR 4522 (1973)
Work work work / ListenChosen one ~ DAKAR 4540 (1974)


Say it play it / Don’t fight the feeling’ ~ MERCURY 73744 (1976)
Anything I can do / Oh so good ~ BAREBACK 531 (1977)
Isn’t it lonely together / Same ~ APO 312 (W/ BEVERLY CROSBY)


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