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Wesley Willis

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Wesley Willis (May 31, 1963 – August 21, 2003) was a 6-foot-6-inch tall, 350 lb. African-American musician from Chicago, Illinois and a diagnosed schizophrenic who gained a rather large underground following in the 1990s after releasing several hundred songs of bizarre and simplistic music which became internet phenomena during the early days of P2P file sharing.

Willis and his siblings spent most of their childhoods in various foster homes. In 1989, Willis began hearing “demon voices” and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He often mentioned that his demons were named “Heartbreaker,” “Nervewrecker,” and “Meansucker”. He called his psychotic episodes “hell rides”. Alternatively, rock-and-roll was “the joy ride music” and Willis often indicated that listening to and performing music helped him battle the voices.

In the early 1990s, Willis became creatively active, selling marker drawings of the Chicago cityscape on the street. Some of the drawings would later appear on the covers of his albums. In 1992, Willis joined musicians from the city’s alternative rock scene to form the hard rock band, The Wesley Willis Fiasco, which produced such future file sharing favorites as “Jesus is the Answer” and “Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost”. Although few took him seriously, Willis created a buzz in the Chicago music scene and soon caught the attention of American Recordings, a major record label.

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