Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wilbert Harrison--Kansas City (1959)

     "Kansas City" was one of earliest songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Written in 1952, the song was inspired by Big Joe Turner and his songs about the mid western city, and was written specifically for Little Willie Littlefield.   As a pair of 19 year olds, neither one had been to Kansas City before (neither claim to have visited there until 1986!). In fact, the "12th Street and Vine" that was referred to in the song didn't exist at the time, it has since been concocted as a marketing tool by city fathers. The song, which was released as "KC Lovin'", had some success on the west coast, but none on the national charts.
     Wilbert Harrison, born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1929, had bounced around as a singer of several types of music including calypso. He had heard Littlefield's version several times over the years and wanted to do a version of his own, which he did in 1959 on the Fury label. The song not only became a big hit for Harrison, but it proved to be so popular with other artists that at one point in the spring of 1959 there were FIVE versions of the song on the charts. (Harrison's, Hank Ballard, Rocky Olson, Rockin' Robert and the Rebels, and a re-release of Littlefield's original)
      The song not only became a rock and roll standard at that time, it continued to be a staple for a number of acts including The Beatles, and James Brown. Harrison hit the charts again in 1969 with the song, "Let's Work Together" which cracked the top 40, and continued to tour for much of the rest of his life. He died in 1994 at a nursing home in Spencer, North Carolina at the age of 65. Below we have the original by Littlefield, and the hit by Harrison.



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