Daddy B. Nice's #91 ranked Southern Soul Artist
"A Friendly Reunion"
Composed by Willie Hill
To automatically link to Willie Hill's charted radio singles, awards, CD's and other citations on the website, go to "Hill, Willie" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.
Daddy B. Nice's Original Profile:
The son of a musician and sharecropper, Willie Hill had an itinerant childhood until his father started a business in Albany, Georgia and settled there. Hill's father Homer was a popular piano
player and gospel singer who entertained
with a group called the Singing Angels.
"I had one little song that I used to
do," Willie told a reporter for the "National Clothesline" in December 2010. "It was called 'I Got Heaven on My Mind.' They had a little theater down in Tifton, Georgia called the Roxy Theater, and they were on the show there with Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers.
"I remember he said, 'I'm going to let my little son come up and sing a song.' The place
5-year-old Willie won over the crowd and the King of Soul, Sam Cooke, too and so began "a lifelong mission to sing onstage."
Sixty years later, Willie Hill is a well-kept secret to all but a few Southern Soul aficionados, with a hard-scrabble career of scaled-down dreams and a lifetime of musical seasoning.
His one-of-kind signature ballad, "A Friendly Reunion," was released in 1997 to little notice, and reprinted again in 2007, once again to scant response. (Critics--Jus' Blues, Blues Critic--touted Willie Hill, but deejays and fans weren't as receptive.) And yet, "A Friendly Reunion" is one of the most affecting ballads to come out of the world of Southern Soul in the last twenty years.
Hill's "A Friendly Reunion" has much in common with the gentle, 50's-era Pat Boone show tune that accompanied the Gary Cooper film, "Friendly Persuasion," from its title to its wafting-cloud-in-a-blue-sky tempo and delicacy.
It also owes something to the country-western stars Willie Hill listened to as a kid growing up--Hank Williams Sr., Ferlin Husky, Jimmy Dean, Marty Robbins and Hank Snow.
Johnnie Taylor used to do these kinds of ballads--"It Just Don't Pay To Get Up In The Morning" comes to mind. Ronnie Lovejoy--of course--with "Sho' Wasn't Me." Another of Hill's songs, "When Will I Stop Loving You," recalls Z.Z. Hill's "Cheating In The Next Room." For some reason, the ballads of the younger generation just don't sound the same.
Hill has a vocal tone like fine old hickory sanded to a smooth sheen, every syllable drips with goodness and humility, and yet on the phrases building to climaxes, Hill summons surprising power and scope.
"Now you belong to someone else,
And the only thing left
Is to say to myself,
'It's just a friendly reunion.'"
"A Friendly Reunion" is a slice-of-life snapshot of running into an old love and experiencing all the pain of what might have been. While it's a common enough subject I can't think of it ever being rendered more effectively. When Willie sings them, the words signify.
"We can never be together, baby.
We each belong to another."
Listen to Willie Hill singing "Friendly Reunion" Live on YouTube.
This live version doesn't do justice to the recorded version, a sample of which is available at "A Friendly Reunion" on the I'M A MAN ON A MISSION CD.
"Friendly Reunion" isn't the only good song Willie Hill ever recorded. "I'm A Man On A Mission" is a stellar tune, with a Theodis Ealey-like, galloping momentum. "Mission" showcases Hill in an uptempo style in which he's just as confident and competent.
"You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine" is also a fine song. It's in the "Friendly Reunion" mold, with a tad less memorable a melody.
There's no way of getting around the fact, however, that Willie Hill is at his Southern Soul heavenly-best on "Friendly Reunion." If there had been no other Willie Hill music in my experience--and God knows there's been very little--the lure of Willie Hill's perfectly-modulated vocal, simultaneously husky and intimate, would have drawn me to him.
The song takes you to a very special place--a state of emotional contentment much like a child's innocent happiness--only the rich feeling is tempered with the wisdom of the years embedded in the lyrics. What more can one ask for?
Link to Willie Hill on I-Tunes.
Sample "A Friendly Reunion" on the I'M A MAN ON A MISSION CD.
--Daddy B. Nice
About Willie Hill
Willie Hill was born in rural Georgia in the mid-forties and grew up in Albany, Georgia, the son of a gospel-musician father.
Song's Transcendent Moment
"As I looked up
If You Liked. . . You'll Love
If you liked Certified Slim's "Birthday Suit," you'll love Willie Hill's "Friendly Reunion."
Honorary "B" Side
"I'm A Man On A Mission"
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