It was listening to the new Coldcut album Sound Mirrors that reminded me (as if I needed it) how great Willie Hightower is. Jon More and Matt Black cover the old Joe South song ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’ with assistance of Robert Owens on vox. As I said then, good though this version is, every other version (yes, that includes Elvis – especially Elvis) of this song pales beside Willie’s. Maybe it’s his rough Sam Cooke-style vocals, maybe it’s the loping, funky beat, maybe it’s the way the horns explode midway though. Whatever, it’s hard to get a more perfect three minutes or so, and it’s one of my all-time favourite songs.
My copy of the song is on the ace compilation ‘Willie Hightower’ (on Damon Albarn’s Honest Jon’s Records). Funnily enough, in the sleeve notes, music writer Tim Tooher tells how he used to drop ‘Walk a Mile..’ into his set back in the heyday of acid house, and got the ravers going wild! The whole album is worth a listen. No, scrub that – you need this album. It’s basically a compilation of three singles (six tracks) he recorded at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and other singles and album tracks he recorded over a too-short career (although apparently he still lives and performs in Alabama).
The music is gritty, funky, soulful, and totally heartfelt and real. You know that Willie meant what he was singing. Particularly on the songs that have a strong civil rights theme, like the brilliant Back Road Into Town, and Time Has Brought About a Change, which is Willie’s personal follow-up to Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, written because he felt that things were changing for his people.
The three above-mentioned tracks are posted below for your listening pleasure. But there’s so much more great stuff on the album. I’ll stop going on about it, mainly because I would run out of superlatives. Bloody Essential.