He was a fellow musician and I've either known Willie or known "of" him for most of my adult life.
My first introduction to him was in 1970 at a folk club in London Ontario called Smales Place where he performed with a guitar, a harmonica and a list of original songs. I remember nothing else about the concert other than he was a bit wobbly.
His reputation at the time was legendary, not unlike George Jones. There were stories of his binges and his "no show" for gigs. One story in particular was about someone loading him onto a train in London heading for a gig in Kingston hoping he's be awake and straight by the time he arrived. Not sure if it was true but it was passed around regardless.
Whiskey Jack has been performing one of his songs for almost 30 years and we finally got around to recording it on our last CD. The song is called In A Prayer and our singer Bob McNiven emailed me a line from that song after he heard about Willie's demise:
"the only time they'll think of me is in a prayer...when I'm gone"
Click here to listen to this lovely song. It's been one of my favourites for years.
We toured in 1981 with Willie when he was playing harmonica for a bluegrass band from London. Two stories come to mind. Our tour took us to Wadina Saskatchewan and when the gig was over and we all piled in the van to return to the festival site, Willie decided to stay behind. He was befriended by the locals so he spent a couple more days with them. That was Willie. Also on that tour, he sang a soulful waltz time version of an up-tempo bluegrass standard, Fox on the Run and I recall it being the most moving rendition of that song ever. I've never heard anyone sing it better.