Chick Willis: The Stoop Down Man
“Stoop down baby,
Let your daddy see. (X2)
You got something down there baby worrying the hell out of me.
Two old maids, laying in the bed,
One turned over to the other and said.
Wake up old maid,
Don’t sleep so damn sound,
You know what you promised when you first laid down.”
I had the very good fortune to see to see Chick Willis and his “Stoop Down Revue” at the height of “Stoop Down Fever,” during the summer of 1973. An early issue of ‘Living Blues’ sparked my interest as it contained a feature on Willis, a colorful performer (who wore a turban!!!). Chick was related to the great Chuck Willis and had a record that was then tearing up the South—the said “Stoop Down Baby”—which no radio station could play. Jukebox’s were responsible for breaking that record.
On a record hunting trip to Detroit, I tracked down of a copy of the actual “Stoop Down” album which was issued on LaVal, a label out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. When I got home I dropped the needle on side one which contained a 21 minute plus version of “Stoop Down.” It took about 20 seconds to realize that if any radio station aired the record, their broadcast license would be revoked before the it finished playing. (I’ve since been reminded it was played on New Orleans radio, “Until we were sick of hearing it.”) Side two contained two songs by our own Guitar Slim—”The Story of My Life” and of course the timeless “The Things I Used To Do.” While I didn’t realize it at the time, to this day, Willis probably interpreted Slim’s material better than anyone else living-or-dead.
I had a month to kill before I enrolled in my first year of college and I talked my dad into lending me the family’s second car–a brand new Ford Maverick—to make my first trip to New Orleans. Being a possessed blues record collector, the plan was to head South (from Canada) and hit all the juke box dealers (jukebox dealers were a prime source for blues records then as they sold off their old 45s for as little as a dime), junk stores and thrift stores, after I crossed the Mason Dixon Line. Disdaining Inter State Highways, my travels took me to Greenville, Mississippi. Now a gambling destination, back then Greenville’s major industry was poverty and ginning cotton. First stop in decent sized town meant finding the yellow pages and finding out where the jukebox dealers were located. On this day, instead I stopped to inspect one of a plethora of neon colored posters that were seemingly stapled to every utility pole inside Greenville’s city limits. The posters announced “CHICK WILLIS & his Stoop Down Revue and Show—added attraction—stoop down contest with prizes. This is not a BYOB event. Admission $5.00.” As luck would have it, the show was that evening at the Greenville VFW Hall. My evening was planned.
Despite being a week night, the parking lot was jammed and I dare say, I had the only car in it with Ontario plates. The Greenville VFW’s major source of lighting seemed to be dim Christmas lights initially. Drink options were limited. Set ups—pint of whiskey, two cokes, ice and paper cups—and tepid quarts of Falstaff and Budweiser beer that sold for $2.00 each. I chose the latter and sat inauspiciously in a corner. When the stage lights came on, a local band, the Zodiacs no less, ran through a short set of current soul favorites. Then a small band took the stage and played a couple of instrumentals while they struggled with the sound system. Then a well dressed man—the promoter or a local deejay—got behind the microphone and asked the audience “Are you ready for the star of the show? Are you ready for the man of the hour?” The audiences response was was resounding “Yes!” The guy in the suit then proclaimed “Here he is, the stoop down man—Chick Willis!!!
On stage came a slight man toting a Gibson guitar and wearing a big smile. Well, if you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought a bomb went off. Every woman it the building went ass over tea kettle. A master showman, Willis worked that crowd like a world champion yo-yo player works a yo-yo. He played the guitar behind his head, between his legs, he dropped to his knees, he played the guitar with his tongue. The latter which inspired women to charge the stage and kept Willis’ valet busy peeling them off the edge of the stage. Musically, Willis was dead on even in the midst of a circus. I recalled he played one of his cousins songs, maybe “What Am I Living For,” “Dirty Muther Fuyer” (called “The Dozens” in these parts) and Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do,” which brought the house down. (In later, years I learned Slim was born and raised in nearby Hollandale.)
With the preliminaries dispensed, Willis lit into a 20 minute version of “Stoop Down Baby” that had everyone on their feet shaking their groove thing instantly. Well, except for me. Willis had a string of verses that seemingly had no end. Barn yard animals, little kids, the president—Willis managed to have everybody in the world stooping down except the Red Chinese and the USSR national hockey team. Soaked in sweat, he eventually retreated back stage. Then it was time for the much anticipated stoop down contest.
As one might assume, only “ladies” participated in the stoop down contest. At first, it reminded me of the limbo contests they had on American and Canadian Bandstand–Yes Virginia, there was a Canadian Bandstand, they filmed it in my home town—but, with no limbo stick. With the MC judging and “Stoop Down Baby” blasting over the sound system, scores of women in all shapes and sizes lined up for first prize. The object of the contest seemed to be, not just how low you could go, but how much drawers you could show. Naturally, the men in the audience howled in delight throughout. It was during the contest that an older black gentleman put his hand on my shoulder—quite obviously noting the look of disbelief on my face. He smiled and said, “Son, I bet you never saw anything like this before.” Obviously, he had a point. A rather well endowed woman took home first prize that night. I don’t remember what the award was, but I’m sure it wasn’t a gift certificate to Victoria Secret.
Willis then returned to the stage and pretty much reprised the first set, again concluding with you know what. He did however underline his genius by coming up with even more verses to “Stoop Down.” In later years, Willis would make several attempts to coat tail his hit–”Stoop Down Part 2,” “Stoop Down ’76,” “Don’t Let Me Catch You With Your Britches Down,” etc., but he couldn’t match the popularity of the original. However, that’s not to say he didn’t make anymore good records as even his most recent recordings have plenty to offer. Take it from some one who found out 37 years ago, an evening with Chick Willis won’t soon be forgotten.
Chick Willis- Stoop Down Baby