JAMES "WEE WILLIE" WAYNE
Born James Douglas Waynes, 17 April 1924, Jefferson County, Texas
I first heard James Wayne(s) via "Travelin' Mood" on the LP "Urban Blues: New Orleans Bounce" (Imperial LM-94004), which I bought in 1970, not long after it came out. An infectious song with an unusual rhythm and lots of whistling. In the 1980's I found a Dutch bootleg LP by Wayne called "Travelin' From Texas To New Orleans" (Sundown CG 709-02, 18 tracks). What follows is mostly adapted from the anonymous liner notes for that LP.
James Waynes was credited with that name on his earliest recordings. Later it became James Wayne and from 1955 onwards, Wee Willie Wayne. He was an R&B singer with a distinctive voice, who was discovered in Texas by Bob Shad, the man probably best known to R&R fans as the owner of the Time, Brent and Shad labels in NYC in the late fifties and early sixties. However, Shad started out recording Southern R&B and blues on his Sittin' In With label in 1948. It was for this label that Wayne made his first recording (in Houston) and his only hit: "Tend To Your Business", which reached # 2 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1951. Shad next recorded Waynes at the WGST studio in Atlanta, Georgia. Among the five songs recorded there was the all-time classic "Junco Partner" (subtitled "Worthless Man" on the old 78), which became a local hit. Waynes was then signed by Imperial, who recorded him in New Orleans. Although he was backed by some of the Crescent City's finest session men (Lee Allen, Edward Frank, Justin Adams, Frank Fields), the style on these records is more Texas than New Orleans. After excursions to Aladdin and Old Town, Waynes returned to Imperial in 1955 and recorded "Travelin' Mood" (among others) on May 27, 1955. Both "Junco Partner" and "Travelin' Mood" became standards in the repertoire of many New Orleans musicians, like Dr. John, Professor Longhair, James Booker and Snooks Eaglin. Further records appeared on the Peacock and Angletone labels, before Waynes was signed by Imperial for a third time in 1961. On February 22 of that year he rerecorded his hit "Tend To Your Business" in a more contemporary style, along with five other tracks. Imperial reissued "Travelin' Mood" on Imperial 5725 and also released a compilation of old and new Wayne material with that title on Imperial LP 9144. Sales were disappointing, though, and the 1961 Imperial recordings were probably his last ones.
Besides being a singer with a very personal vocal style, Waynes played at least one instrument, drums. He also wrote his own material. Judging by his looks, it is not unlikely that he had Indian blood. In 1968 it was alleged that he was nursed in a mental institution in Leavensworth and by 1974 he turned up in Los Angeles, where he died in 1978. His music is well worth seeking out, a fine blend of Texas blues and New Orleans R&B.
There is one CD available, probably a bootleg: James Wee Willie Wayne, From Texas To New Orleans (Bayou 1004, released in 2002, 31 tracks).
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