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Georgia bluesman Chick Willis, 79, dies

By Howard Pousner / hpousner@ajc.com

Georgia bluesman Robert. L. “Chick” Willis, who played with his cousin Chuck Willis and Elmore James before making a name for himself with a particularly adult take on the blues, has died.

Willis passed away on Dec. 7, according to his official web site (www.chickwillis.com). Funeral services are planned for 11 a.m. Dec. 21 at Antioch Baptist Church, 1096 Old Cabaniss Road, Forsyth.

Born in Monroe County, where he resided for most of his life, Willis was 79.

In a rambling essay he penned for the Web site www.blueshalloffame.com seven years ago, Willis boasted, “I am the blues.”

The essay addressed many of the ills inflicting the genre. Willis concluded it with: “I could write a book about the Blues that most people that listen to the Blues don’t know, but that would take me a long time because you see I have so much to say just like many many Blues Artists that went to Blues Heaven. I bet they are sitting around telling their BLUES story to one another.”

The Willis family is seeking help with burial expenses. Donations can be made at any Bank of America to the Chick Willis Foundation (account # 334040908303).

Here is a biography of Willis from AllMusic.com:

Cousin to the late blues ballad singer Chuck Willis, Robert “Chick” Willis is primarily beloved for his ribald, dozens-based rocker “Stoop Down Baby.” The guitarist cut his original version in 1972 for tiny La Val Records of Kalamazoo, MI, selling a ton of 45s for the jukebox market only (the tune’s lyrics were way too raunchy for airplay).

Willis left the military in 1954, hiring on as valet and chauffeur to cousin Chuck, then riding high with his many R&B hits for OKeh Records. At that point, Chick’s primary role on the show was as a singer (he made his own vinyl debut in 1956 with a single, “You’re Mine,” for Lee Rupe’s Ebb Records after winning a talent contest at Atlanta’s Magnolia Ballroom), but he picked up the guitar while on the road with his cousin (Chick cites Guitar Slim as his main man in that department).

When Chuck died of stomach problems in 1958, Willis soldiered on, pausing in Chicago to work as a sideman with slide guitar great Elmore James. A few obscure 45s (”Twistin’ in the Hospital Ward,” cut for Alto in 1962, sounds promising) preceded the advent of “Stoop Down Baby,” which Willis has freshened up for countless sequels ever since (he developed the song by teasing passersby with his ribald rhymes while working in a carnival variety show).

Risqué material remained a staple of Willis’s output in recent years. He cut several albums for Ichiban, notably 1988’s “Now!, Footprints in My Bed” in 1990, and “Back to the Blues” in 1991.

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