Years ago I had the fortunate opportunity to bring Willie Pooch and The Upsetters on stage. It was a brisk November evening and Willie Pooch and The Upsetters were the opening act for Bobby “Blue” Bland at Club Ice in downtown Columbus, Ohio. In all my years in Columbus I never had the chance to see Willie Pooch perform until that night. For years I recall hearing the band’s name constantly. Prior to the band going on stage; I had the chance to talk with Willie. He was a very down to earth man. You could tell music was his passion. He shared a story with me about how he grew up playing little league baseball in Mississippi. He recalled another young man on his team named Elvis Presley who went on to do pretty well in the music world. As Willie Pooch And The Upsetters took the stage and began their first song; it was very evident that Willie and the band had a deep affinity for the blues…..
(Courtesy: Columbus Dispatch)
Rebounding from a health scare, Willie Pooch took the stage in January before a packed house at a Worthington restaurant – where 300 people had gathered for a tribute to the bluesman. So many musicians showed up that the entertainment lasted 10 hours. His right leg had recently been amputated, but the ebullient Pooch – wearing a white mink coat – joined in nonetheless: He crooned from his wheelchair.”He made you want to get up there and perform,” said Columbus blues singer Teeny Tucker, a longtime friend and collaborator. “He was a natural.” Pooch died Wednesday at age 72 of complications from diabetes.
He was born William Johnson in 1937 and grew up in Tupelo, Miss., before moving with his family at 13 to the South Side of Chicago. There, the teenager – who as a youngster sang gospel tunes in church – discovered the blues. In a 1999 Dispatch interview, he recalled career advice from Windy City guitarist Luther Allison. “Just remember ‘baby’ and ‘honey’ instead of singing ‘Jesus,'” Pooch said. “You sing, ‘Oh, you know that Jesus . . .’; instead, you go, ‘Oh, you know my baby.'”
At 26, Pooch made his way to Columbus to rejoin keyboardist and former Chicago band mate “Big” Dale Sales. He spent 30 years at Buckeye Steel but made ample time after work for gigs. On rare occasions, he played bass. He often stayed late at clubs to listen to and jam with other musicians. Pooch was happiest when making music, his wife, Amanda, said yesterday.
(Video Courtesy: Columbus On Camera dot com)
“He was a great vocalist, a fantastic entertainer – a big, round, throaty, deep voice,” said guitarist Rick Collura, who had performed with Pooch in their band, Willie Pooch & the Upsetters, since 1982. Listeners didn’t just hear Pooch; they saw him: He was known for his bold fashions – wild-colored suits, with shoes to match – and head-turning Lincolns and Cadillacs in lime green and canary yellow.
“Willie made this town a blues destination.” Even in illness, Collura said, Pooch “gave 100 percent.” In interviews , however, friends said he had neglected his health. Pooch is survived by his wife and sons, Nicholas and Willie Jr.
A viewing will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. Tuesday at Diehl-Whittaker Funeral Services, 720 E. Long St. – followed by a service. Pooch will be buried in yellow; visitors are encouraged to wear bright colors.