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Wesley Willis

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  • Born: Chicago, IL
  • Died: Chicago, IL
  • Years Active: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Wesley Willis was a schizophrenic street singer who built up a small cult following with his bizarre, three-chord rants about trivial everyday items, music, and people he knew. Willis was discovered singing on the streets of Chicago in the early '90s. For the first part of the decade, several independently released tapes of his songs appeared, eventually followed by indie recordings of his albums. By 1995, he had gained the attention of several well-known musicians, including Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Shortly before signing a major-label contract with American Records in 1996, Willis was profiled on MTV, which resulted in increased recognition in certain alternative rock circles. However, it didn't result in good sales, and both of his American Records of 1996 -- Fabian Roadwarrior (released in August) and Feel the Power (released in October) -- were flops. Black Light Diner appeared to little notice in 1997. And in mid-2000, Willis released Dr. Wax and Rush Hour. Shake Your Piggy Bank followed in early 2001. Willis was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002 and was recovering from surgery when he died at the age of 40 on August 21, 2003.

eMusic Features


What You Talkin’ About Willis?: The Art And Madness of Gemini and Wesley Willis

By Robert Phoenix, Contributor

There is something inherently schizo about the Gemini. A quick scan of Gemini artists proves at least two stereotypes correct: one, that they often have multiple personas, and two, they generally need others to extract and then enact those personas. Consider Andre 3000, who is always whipping up some new self via fashion, or Prince, who's first a man, then a symbol, then man again, and whose attention span is almost - but not quite… more »