All around it was a very good SEPTEMBER week here at Willis Wonderland LA as well as Willis W in Detroit.
Yes I know there is a Willis Street in almost every major city in the country. But this particular one is not only the exact spot my parents first met when they lived kitty corner from each in Detroit oh so may years ago, but it’s also the street that was taken over to make way for this intersection below, in a housing complex started by retired Motown singers and where we sang one of the sing-alongs for “The D” record and videos.
As the reliably magic day – the 21st of September – approached, NPR did a great story on the timelessness of my very first hit, “September”, co-written with Al McKay and Maurice White. Professors of Musicology even broke it down for analysis as to why it is so eternally happy and a song that will literally never end.
0It’s been decades now that every weekend I receive at least 5 videos of the song played at someone’s wedding or drunken karaoke spree or there’s a bar mitzvah boy spinning around his blond dream girl, anywhere and everywhere happiness is the intention. And indeed THAT makes me very happy!
Then I had literally one if the greatest days of my life in Detroit on THE BaDeYa 21st of September when I performed my very sold out “BaDeYa, Detroit!” show, featuring a 15 piece band put together from musicians and singers we discovered at the sing-alongs and while filming the feature-length-exceedingly-hybrid-documentary, Allee Willis Loves Detroit.
The show/party also included dancers from Mosaic Youth Theatre Of Detroit, one of “The D”/ Allee Willis Loves Detroit’s beneficiaries, spinning car tires over their heads, choreographed videographers leaping over drums on cymbal crashes and organ sweeps, as well as the obligatory obsessive amount of junk food I subsist on.
And then how much better does it get when you get Tavis Smily in an Afro (attempting to) shake his booty to ’September”’s sister, “Boogie Wonderland”, on Dancing With The Stars, all in the same week?! Though he sported one of those chopped down naturals when a good footlong Billy Preston was called for.
I have been blessed with a wonderful (albeit challenging) life and am living my creative (albeit money challenged) dream right now and I thank all of you who made it possible! Remember to throw some gas money in the tank please.
For the past few few years now on the “BaDeYa, say do you remember 21st night of September”, my blessed and magic day because it’s the first line in the first hit record I ever had, I’ve made a tradition of performing live, something that took me over three decades to get together. Other than last year when I was in Detroit conducting one of the 50 sing-alongs for ”The D”, the unofficial official theme song I cowrote for Detroit, in a laundromat with people essentially spinning around in dryers while singing.
As luck would have it, THIS year was a particularly special September 21st as just a couple days earlier NPR did a story on why “September”, co-written with Maurice White and Al McKay, remains such a timeless song, symbolizing warmth, love, and soul.
This year September 21 was even more special because I decided to perform live for the very first time EVER in Detroit, my beloved hometown for whom I’ve (unofficially) been slaving away on a project, “The D”, a record and multiple music videos, and Allee Willis Loves Detroit, a feature length film, for the last 2 1/2 years. As such, my co-writer and partner on the music portion of the project, Andrae Alexander, and I put together a 15 piece band made up of the very best musicians and singers we found during the 50 D sing-alongs we led last year to perform live with us in the show, BaDeYa, Detroit!.
We also wanted to give everyone a preview of the song which finally has a preliminary mix after over a solid year of trying to deal with 5000 vocal and instrument tracks, each one with up to hundreds of voices on them. There’s just so much room in the sound spectrum and every inch of it we have taken up truly sounds like something you have never heard before. We also gave the audience a sneak peak at the beginnings of the first of many music videos to follow. (Sorry – no preview here; only a few shots so you can see it ain’t no normal thang and to insure that you get the full punch once the first video’s actually delivered.)
For an artist such as myself who dotes on every detail of a stage production from designing the invitations to handmaking the set, picking theme food, designing the merchandise, casting people who help us like I’m casting characters in a musical, shipping 20 crates of everything to Detroit, directing, co-producing, and doing just about everything else involved in a production – albeit all with fantastic collaborators – this was no easy feat. And performing out of town for essentially the first time in my adult life makes that even harder. But don’t even ask me how worth it it was!!! Easily one of the best days/nights of my life was this “21st (almost) night of September”!
We performed at United Sound, a still-in-existence historic recording studio in Detroit where everyone from Charlie Parker to The Rolling Stones and some of my all-time favorite records like Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft”, The Dramatics’ “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get”, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” were recorded.
But to turn a brilliant recording studio into a brilliant performance space is another issue entirely, especially when it involves things like sets, choreographed videographers who leap over drums on crash cymbal cues and organ sweeps, and all the other madness that goes into an Allee Willis production..
Of this now 2 1/2 year Detroit gargantuan mofo project, “The D” and Allee Willis Willis Loves Detroit, the feature-length film about human spirit as seen through the people of Detroit and how my life, a constant conscious battle to keep my own spirit going, parallels that struggle, 99% of it has been funded by me. (Put some gas money here please.) So this meant getting people involved in BaDeYa, Detroit! working for gratis. Which they thankfully, gratefully, and miraculously did. From the band to just about everyone else who worked in any capacity on the show. They are saints. They are insanely talented. They are blissfully soulful, and primary examples of why I feel so compelled to make a film about the people of Detroit and how it is THEY who will rebuild the city because of their resilient spirit.
I want to give a special shout out to Malcolm Haris and Donnevan Tolbert, two young gentleman I saw play Mister and Harpo when their high school, Cass Tech, became the first in the country to license the musical I cowrote, The Color Purple, a couple years ago, and who did a brilliant spoken word intro to my show.
And I want to thank the five brilliant dancers from The Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit, one of the two beneficiaries of all profits from my Detroit efforts, who donned mechanics uniforms and spun car tires over their heads during the sneak peak world premiere of the first mix of “The D” and boogied their butts off during my second hit, “Boogie Wonderland”.
I want to also thank the stupendous audience not only for showing up, as songwriters remain the buried treasure of the music industry, but also for participating so wildly so that the show came off just as I had prayed it would. Like a party in my living room. And if you don’t know my reputation for throwing parties you better go here now.
As a result of having so much fun not to mention hitting a new plateau in my budding performing career, I love Detroit even more than I have kvelled about it before, as if that was even possible. And I will eternally love the 21st of September for doing everything from giving me a second birthday because every year since I wrote it I hear from thousands of people that day telling me how happy the song makes them feel. This year it made me the happiest of all.
I hope you can see the spirit that was jumping off of the stage and ricocheting back to us in all the above photos as well as all of these. That room was an automatic power generator and from what I’ve heard everyone, certainly including me, is still buzzing. So BaDeYa Detroit!
I know. I’ve been a hideous blogger as of late. After years of dedicated waking up hours before I naturally would in order to churn out my daily Kitsch ‘O The Day offerings it hit me that I was much better served throwing things out in little dribs and drabs via Twitter and Facebook than the long tomes I slaved over and that ate up major portions of my morning each day.
Besides that, I had finally gotten it together to challenge the almost 4 decades old monster of stage fright that loomed over me and I finallllly started performing live. This has taken major amounts of effort and time as I do everything from design the invitation to build the sets to write the show and music, hire the cast of almost 30, design and build the stupid games we play at the show, not to mention rehearsing and the most gruesome task at all, e-mailing, hustling and doing whatever it takes to get people to the shows. So my days of the last year have been filled much more with that type of activity than writing about the (literally) millions of artifacts of kitsch in my collection, many of which have key roles in my show.
I have another big show coming up THIS Thursday and Friday, November 8 and 9th, at beautiful NoHoPAC in even more beautiful North Hollywood , CA. This is no normal singer-songwriter show. Rather it’s like some mutant crossbreed of a greatest hits concert, a kids birthday party, a day at the spa, and a comedy convention. As a means of proof, here are some photos from my last show this last September 21st, THE day immortalized in the first line of my very first hit around which the show is based, “September”.
Tickets to Ba-de-ya, Baby! this Thursday and Friday night are here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/258274. There are very few left so go grab them while they’re still on the burner.
So, sorry for falling off the blog pole but if you really want to see what I’m about, go here. See you there and BA-DE-YA!!
Starting to look mighty purdy in our fancy custom bling for Ba-de-ya, Baby!, my all new/all hits LIVE show in a couple o’ weeks on SEPTEMBER 21st and 22nd in beautiful North Hollywood. I guarantee its unlike any other singer/songwriter show you’ve ever seen! Tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/258274
On May 8 and 9, 2012, I took a giant leap in my evolution and broke through an almost 4 decades-long bout of stage fright, performing two sold-out performances of my Super Ball Bounce Back Review, a combo concert/sing-along/party extravaganza at King King in Hollywood.
Lack of performing has always been a raw, gaping hole in a long career that’s stretched across various fields of the arts, despite the fact that I’ve always had the balls to throw myself off cliffs as I periodically dive-bomb into pursuits I know nothing about. I’ve hosted multimedia theme parties where I’m perenially on mic so that even the conversations I have with everyone are blasted throughout my house or wherever else I host these beasts. And God knows I walk around in hair and clothes that makes peoples’ necks snap if they’ve never gotten a gander of me before. Throw in that I’ve sold 50,000,000 records despite the fact that to this day I have no idea how to read, notate or play music, and I sold hundreds of paintings before I realized that you mix colors to get different colors. So backing away from displaying myself publicly made absolutely no sense.
But then I realized that this theme of living fearlessly was at the heart of everything I ever created. View life as a creative process. You are the canvas. If you’re stuck with a weakness, for God sakes turn it into a hook. Nine times out of ten, you’re the bogey monster scaring yourself shitless so just get out the way! So I finally did.
So here then are four videos from my Super Ball Bounce Back Review. If you like them and are going to be in LA on September 21 and/or 22, I’m rising again at NoHoPAC in a salute to “September”, the first line of which mentions the date of the opening night.
And the whole enchilada:
Ideally I would’ve had a shitload of photos and videos to post already after my – I’m not too proud to say – sold out SMASH shows at King King in Hollywood this past Tuesday and Wednesday nights. But, alas, as I’m everything from the star of the show to co-producer, co-director, set designer, maker of all souvenirs and handouts, MC and anything else that’s involved in putting the show together, just getting everything unpacked and trying to make up for the total 6 hours sleep I got in the last week means I won’t get any serious documentation up before next week or so. But here are a couple videos that my assistant Dina, on stage with me at all times, shot on my little Canon Elf. I only have them up on Facebook so hopefully you can see them there by clicking below. Didn’t want to put anything up on YouTube yet as I want to wait until I have the real footage. SO way way wayyyyy more coming in weeks to come, with at least photos hopefully by Tuesday.
Part of “September”:
Part of “Boogie Wonderland”:
Here’s a few shots from the last rehearsal yesterday before I make another go of it live. Both shows tonight and tomorrow night are thankfully sold out, though there may be a few places to stand by the bar. See you there!
Rehearsing is, indeed, a novel concept for me. I like to plan, plan, plan but then just let things happen as they may and field the few things that may go awry. This is part of my daredevil style being a completely unschooled artist. But when I tried that in my last show, supposedly my big comeback after a 37 year bout with stage fright, the tech guy screwed up so severely that I realized that could never happen again. So I spent the last week in the rehearsal studio with a lot of amazing folks getting ready to hit the floor boards again.
These were all taken last week at rehearsals for my Allee Willis’ Super Ball Bounce Back Review live show in mere moments, tomorrow and Wednesday nights, the 8th and 9th, at King King in Hollywood. These are in no particular order, just a few of my favorites.