Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Willie West
Willie West is one of the original Soul and Blues men. He was born Millard Leon West on December 8, 1941 in Raceland, Louisiana, a stone’s throw from New Orleans. He started singing at 15 when he and his cousins formed a band they called The Sharks. He was known for his high energy performances and wide vocal range. The band became very popular in the local clubs and venues. Willie wrote and recorded his first vinyl 45 in 1959 called, “Did You Have Fun” for Dorothy Lee’s Rustone label. His mother had to sign the contract for him as he was just 17. The song became a regional hit and made the Billboard charts.
He moved to New Orleans in 1960, where he lived until Hurricane Katrina. Besides his successful solo career, he has fronted many notable New Orleans bands including The Meters, Electric Soul Train, Oliver and the Rockets, the Gladiators with David Batiste and Uptown Rulers with Aaron and Charles Neville and Bobby Love. Allen Toussaint became his producer and he cut a string of excellent singles for his labels. Willie learned about arranging and producing by observing Allen at work. Some of these early recordings were done at Cosimo Matassa’s studios in New Orleans. Willie also sang the Toussaint-penned title track for the Warner Brother’s motion picture “Black Samson”, and then released two singles on Warner Brothers.
Willie was blessed to perform with and/or open for Otis Redding, Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, King Floyd, Lightning Hopkins, Joe Tex, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Bobby Blue Bland, Little Milton, ZZ Hill, Big Joe Turner, CP Love, Irma Thomas, Ernie K Doe, Eddie Floyd, Solomon Burke, Mary Wells, Guitar Watson, Johnny Nash, Barbara Lynn, Earl King, Smiley Lewis, Etta James, Greg Allman, Jimmy Buffet, Dr. John, Jimmy Reed and Johnny Adams. Many of his early gigs were booked by Percy Stovall’s New Orleans Booking Agency, which represented him.
He has had the pleasure of meeting many music luminaries including Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Guitar Slim, Paul McCartney and so many others. Willie and Leo Nocentelli of the Meters wrote a song for Albert King. In 2012 Willie released the CD “Can’t Help Myself” on CDS Records, which he produced with Carl Marshall.
In 2014 “Lost Soul” came out on CD and vinyl from Jukka Sarapaa and his Timmion Records label out of Helsinki, Finland. The High Society Brothers Band backed this project. And his latest release on CD is “Lafourche Crossing”, on Loud Folk Records, which he produced and arranged with John Wright. He performs his first duet with his daughter YaDonna West, a dynamic vocalist and performance artist herself. Currently he is collaborating on the West Trainz Project with Erik West-Millette from Montreal. Willie West is still writing, recording and performing regularly, at home and abroad, although he does not do the splits on stage anymore.