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Nick Willett Hillbilly Cat 

Nick Willett 

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Recapturing the raw original jump-joint sounds of the 1950's, Kick Willett transforms us back to those unparalleled days of Rockabilly and R&B that oozed from the likes of Sonny Burgess, Carl Perkins, Cash, Orbison and of course Elvis.

Coming from a quiet suburb in Southern Chicago, Willett has a genuine humble and friendly personality that Nick Willett at Americanais very rarely found today, along with the commendable attributes of politeness and strong religious beliefs. Nick has an amazing ability to sing just about any kind of song with the charismatic stage presence that instantly draws the crowd towards him. His haunting expressive voice sends shivers down the spine of those who have already been fortunately to see him perform live.

After his performance at Americana 2002, I had the opportunity for a quick chat with Nick Willett before heset off for his flight back to the States. I asked Nick why a young man of 25 is drawn to music from over 40 years ago

"Well! I just have to say that my biggest influence was my pop; he's now 63 and from Fancy Farm Kentucky, so there was that Southern influence there. Also the rock 'n' roll that he played with his brother. It was just a band that he and his brother had together in that rock 'n' roll, rockabilly kind of thing and he was into the country end of things too. So I was brought up with that kind of music and I've always enjoyed listening to it. I was very quiet growing up and didn't start to sing until about five years ago, maybe late 20-year-old. It was one of those things the Lord opens up in you to do...you never thought you could do and something I've got to go full ahead with. I just want to say: You know my pop brought me up with Rick Nelson, Roy Orbison, The Patters...Presley stuff. The thing is, I probably would never sing a note in my life if it wasn't for listening to that music.

Nick Willett at AmericanaWhat I identify with the Presley style type of thing was; he was his own man and I plan to be my own man as well, as far as material, vocal style and everything. Because if you don't have a vehicle to get from one point to another to even start singing, then I wouldn't have been singing. So I would kind of sing along with things, just the rhythm and feel of that music that I really identify with, but I mean to strive to be my own man. I liked guys like Dean Martin and Jackie Wilson and things like that.

So that's my taste of music and it seems like that raw pure rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues that fits music with feel. Even when I'm playing, things don't have to be right on the money or picture perfect notes play-wise. Because if you can play the song perfect with no feeling, it doesn't mean anything, because you don't feel it and the crowd doesn't feel it. So that is what I aim to do with my live shows as well."

You say that you only started singing about 5 years ago, but you must have been singing in your earlier days as a youngster in church or school?

(laughing) "Well that's a funny story. I'll tell you what happened. When I was about six years old or evenNick Willett at Hemsby younger than that. I caught my pop playing rhythm guitar and singing in front of us when we were little kids. I would catch myself and my sister playing on a recorder, just laughing and goofing around. Actually I heard the playback at six years of myself old messing around with my sister and I sounded like a little girl.

That kept me quiet all the years to follow, because I was very self-conscience about my voice after hearing it. But of course you sound like a little girl because you're only six. Even in church growing up. I was very quiet, just reading along with the hymnal with the songs. I enjoyed it and felt it, but never opened my mouth, until I one day when I was around early 20 years old and it came out and kind of set the fire.

To know how I am as a person...kinda reserved in that way and to be able to get up and do what I now do, is something that you know is a 180-degree turn and the Lord has opened that up. That's the reason and that's why I do it. I just get such a thrill...thankful that he has chosen me to pull this off."

Tell me what has brought you over to the Europe, because this isn't your first trip over here.

Nick Willett at Hemsby" This here is my second major trip. The first one was September 18th of last year (2001). I just came over to do a month's tour....no one knew me and it was just one of those things. I told my guitar player...hey we'll just do the best we can, nobody knows me so we'll just get along and see what happens. There is an event called Hemsby. We played a couple of shows in England to start with and Hemsby was like two weeks later. I was invited to do a 45-minute spot just out of the blue. There was nothing planned, and it was at 2-00 in the afternoon...a little early for me. (Hemsby doesn't come alive until early evening). We went out and played this thing, and sure enough people showed-up. It was something; because let alone me showing up, I couldn't imagine all these people showing up this early. We pulled it off and I guess things have sparked from there. People enjoyed it and I guess word got around. People would contact me here and there, which was just a treat to hear from them...it kinda sparked interest I believe. I had some calls before I got home. It's been scattered around a bit, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland and I just go through the doors that are opened. I don't know when they'll be opened or how...I'm not too good at setting a program or schedule for the future, because it's all spur of the moment for me."

I enquired whether Nick was using an agent to book him in the various countries for his tours, or was he Nick Willett at Hemsbydoing it himself.

"Up to this point...for the first tour my guitar player had a lot of ties and ran up a nice little tour. Then when I got to meet everyone in person, it was where I was able to make some contact and all. Doing this tour was a big feat, I was able to pull it off on my own. And I'll tell you it wasn't easy! I felt like the father of three or four guys. (laughs) I had a headache trying to take care of everything. I can see why people need managers and help, because it was a lot, not only to be a performer, but to be the business man before the show, after it and to take care of everything. It was two months...I left May 8th and now it is July 6th and I pulled it off and I go home Monday. I can take a deep breath now and look back on it all!!!"

What do you look forward to when you go back home?

"I go back Monday and take a couple of days rest at home. Then I have to take a three hour ride up North to Green Bay, Wisconsin and have to play the big all-nighter Casino rock 'n' roll festival on Saturday night the 13th. After the show there, I can relax. My sister gets married on July 26th and I've got an old car to work on, so I might be getting my hands dirty again."

Is this an old classic car you're talking about.

"Well actually, believe it or not. Maybe 5-6 years ago I worked on a 52 Chevy. My buddy Tim and I put that together and I've been driving it for the past 5 years. I always had an eye for one of those old Cadillacs. I was fortunate to get hold of a 50 Cadillac, two door hardtop coupe devilled. (laughs) At night on this tour you know...I'd just picked it up before the tour and I wanted to get into it and tear it apart...so I had something to dream, about when I go to bed. (laughs)

How have you found the audiences in Europe?

Nick Willet at Hemsby"Actually it has been a real treat. Because sometimes you never know what to expect at given a show. Especially on the first tour. You would go into a hall earlier in the day and it's empty. Then you go backstage...change some strings and come out and it's showtime and it's a great crowd. They have all been very hospitable and kind. It's been very nice and everyone has been kind. I've been thankful for that. A lot of times you don't always know how you're putting it across, to an audience...not sure how it is going to be received and they have been very warm to me!!!"

I know that you have get away for your journey back home, so thanks very much for your time.

"Thank you very much also."


Nick Willett at Hemsby