Wesley Willis Fiasco

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.

– Stephen Thomas Erlewine