More Than A One Hit Wonder
"I Want Somebody (To Show Me The Way Back Home)"
[Turbinton], WillieTee, Atlantic, 1965
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I featured Willie Tee (Wilson Turbinton) here back on October 30, 2004, posting a cut from his 1976 album, Anticipation; and I’ve also previously pointed out his vital work as composer, arranger and band leader for the groundbreaking Wild Magnolias albums from the mid-1970’s. Recently, I happened on this single when looking through my collection for something else (always a good search method), and thought I’d give it a spin.
A gifted pianist at a young age, tutored by Harold Battiste and Ellis Marsalis, Tee began to play sessions and record as a vocalist for his mentors’ label, AFO (All For One), in the early 1960’s. After the demise of AFO, he was signed to Nola Records, which was owned by his cousin, Ulis Gaines, and partners Clint Scott and Wardell Quezergue. Tee’s debut single for the label in 1965, “Teasin’ You” b/w “Walking Up A One-Way Street”, both written by Earl King and deftly produced and arranged by Quezergue, created enough regional action to cause Atlantic to take note and option to release it nationally, turning it into a top twenty hit. With that success, Atlantic released two more of his Nola team singles that year to far less acclaim.
“I Want Somebody” b/w “You Better Say Yes” was the last of his Atlantic singles. While the featured side, penned by Mr. Turbinton, is an oustanding record in its own right, you can hear similarities in production and arrangement with what would be the next big Nola hit, Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’”. That song was also recorded in 1965; but I don’t know which session came first. Probably, many of the same musicians are on both; and George Davis’ unmistakable lead guitar work is evidence of that. My money’s on Smokey Johnson as provider of the hip, Latin-feel of the drum groove on this project. With its upbeat, bigger sound, and soulful vocal complete with a well-placed scream, “I Want Somebody” is definitely the oddity of Tee’s Nola output. His other Nola-produced tracks were classy and classic, but mainly mid-tempo soul/pop or smoothly sung ballads.
It would be about five more years until he began recording serious funk with his band, the Gaturs. In between, he made a pop album for Capitol and produced some of Margie Joseph’s earliest sides. Although he had but a solitary hit record, Willie Tee deserves recognition and appreciation for his versatile talents and important contributions to the New Orleans musical continuum.