Little Bill Engelhart (2011) – LOUIE of the Week

Last week, I made a trek to Tacoma for the big Kent Morrill tribute concert that took place at the Temple Theatre. I gave myself a week in town, and had an absolute blast, seeing old friends, visiting favorite stomping grounds, enjoying some superb musical performances, and otherwise having a grand time in Tacoma-land.

One of the first stops I made after flying into the area was Johnny’s Dock Restaurant in Tacoma, where Little Bill Engelhart was performing a show on Sunday night. As this was the only show Bill was doing that week, I arranged my flight plan to make sure I’d be able to see this show.

For those of you not familiar with music of Little Bill, he is truly one of the musical treasures of the Pacific Northwest region. After his recording of “I Love An Angel” became a national hit record, he was packaged as a “West Coast Fabian” and toured with such artists as the Ventures, Bobby Vee, the Fleetwoods and (the real) Fabian. After a brief period in the spotlight, he returned to the Tacoma area where he carved out his niche as a working blues musician, playing every kind of gig imaginable, inspiring a multitude of amazing stories. In the Northwest blues community, he’s won practically every kind of “blues award” that would be available to him – best male blues singer, favorite blues band, entertainer of the year, Northwest legend, and so many other awards that it’s damned near impossible to keep track of ’em all.

In the LOUIE universe, Bill is recognized as one of the earliest musicians to record LOUIE LOUIE, releasing his version two years before the Kingsmen or Paul Revere & the Raiders ever recorded that song. Bill was a natural subject for the LOUIE documentary, and I made sure that I got an interview with him back in the late 1990’s when I was living in Seattle.

Bill’s not only a great musician, but also a fine writer with two autobiographical collections of short stories. After recently reading his latest book, I decided it was time to go back and shoot a new interview, which I did on Friday.

One of the things that Bill has deal with is a disability that limits his mobility. At the age of 10, he was diagnosed with polio, which meant that he wasn’t able to jump around like some of the more athletic performers. Braces and wheelchairs are a big part of Bill’s life, but it certainly hasn’t stopped him from performing his music.

One thing that’s not considered common knowledge is the fact that Richard Berry, the man who wrote LOUIE LOUIE, is another musician that had to deal with disabilities. In Richard’s case, his disability had a direct impact on his career, as it was at a crippled children’s summer camp where Richard picked up a ukulele and was inspired to do music.

It was wonderful to visit Bill at his home, as I had an opportunity to meet his lovely wife Jan, and his son Tony. Tony’s a talented writer that has been living with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder.

A few years ago, a group of friends collaborated a very special project to pay tribute to both Bill and Tony. Sixty-two musicians and fifteen bands got together to sing songs written by Bill Engelhart, creating a fundraiser to benefit dystonia research.

BigBlues for Little Bill is the dream project created and produced by Randy Oxford, a former member of Little Bill and the Bluenotes, who wrote these words for the liner notes:

Having spent 8 years with the Blue Notes and recording 4 albums, I came to know Bill as a mentor in the music business and life. His ethics, his standards and his mastery of music, the whims of club owners, booking agents, and life on the road – these are the things he taught me and the countless other musicians he’s influenced. Over the years, I have also grown to know and respect his Bill’s son, Tony. Tony triumphs over the ravages of dystonia, a debilitating movement disorder, have been a long-time inspiration. So, it seems natural to pay tribute to to both men through the music of Little Bill, while benefiting dystonia research. This project has been a long-time dream and thanks to the support of The South Sound Blues Association and the the generosity of the many sponsors, the dream is now a reality.

I’d like to encourage my friends to support this project- buy some excellent music and all proceeds will be sent to the Dystonia Foundation. It sounds like a win-win situation to me!

In the meantime, here’s Bill’s latest performance of LOUIE LOUIE, captured live by your truly!


In the photo above, you can Little Bill Engelhart in the middle with the big smile, surrounded by bandmates Tom Morgan (drums) on the left, and Rod Cook (guitar) on the right.

1 comment to Little Bill Engelhart (2011) – LOUIE of the Week

  • It was an honor to do this project for Bill and Tony. The music of Little Bill will live forever. The Tribute CD is still available and will continue to help support Dystonia research.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>