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Willie Tee

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Willie Tee (February 6, 1944 - September 11, 2007) was a keyboardist, songwriter, singer, producer and notable early architect of New Orleans funk and soul, who helped shape the sound of New Orleans for more than four decades.

Born as Wilson Turbinton, Willie Tee secured his place as a New Orleans music legend by arranging, co-writing and leading the band on the Wild Magnolias’ self-titled 1974 debut album. The popularity of that landmark recording, and the subsequent “They Call Us Wild” introduced the Mardi Gras Indians’ street-beat funk to the world.

Wilson Turbinton and his older brother, modern jazz saxophonist, Earl Turbinton, grew up in the Calliope public housing complex alongside the Neville brothers. His earliest influences ranged from the singular rhythm and blues of Professor Longhair to the bebop jazz of John Coltrane.

He made his first recordings for the local AFO Records in 1962 while still a teenager. Three years later, he cut “Teasin’ You”, a soulful, mid-tempo composition for Atlantic Records. His “Walking Up a One-Way Street” and “Thank You John” were also popular hits.

In the late 1960s, Willie Tee & the Souls performed everywhere from the Apollo Theater in Harlem to the Ivanhoe on Bourbon Street. After hearing the band at the Ivanhoe in 1968, jazz musician Cannonball Adderley encouraged Tee to record an instrumental album. The album was never released, but the master tapes were recently rediscovered in the vaults of Capitol Records. Tee’s pop was called expressive, his funk ferocious and his jazz “like mirrors in a prism” by longtime producer Leo Sacks, who called Willie Tee “a monster on the B-3 organ” in a Times-Picayune article.

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