Wesley Willis

The Developing Arts And Music Foundation
Minneapolis, MN
November 2001

Wesley Willis is a formidable figure in rock, towering above most of his fans, at 6’5, and weighing in at around 320 pounds. His most intimidating feature, however, is most likely the huge bump on his forehead – the trademark of greeting all who come too close, with a spirited headbutt.

When Wesley Willis last played the Seventh Street Entry, someone in the audience shouted out, “Schizophrenia!”, referring to the chronic condition Willis was diagnosed with several years ago. Willis paused, getting serious for just a second, and then without a trace of irony, retorted quietly, “Fuck that shit!”, then launched into another song – featuring the same pre-programmed Casio backing track as all of his other songs.

Since 1995, the former Chicago street artist has released over 20 albums, and more than 400 songs, many of which are tributes to his favorite rock’n rollers, including Run, Westy, Run, Slash’s Snakepit, Fugazi, and Hootie & the Blowfish. Dale Meiners, a guitarist who previously played with Billy Corgan, might be the man to thank – or blame – for helping to instigate The Wesley Willis Fiasco, after inducting Willis into the world of rock.

In 1996, The Wesley Willis Fiasco released an album and a split EP with the ska-punk outfit Sublime. Shortly afterwards, the Fiasco dissolved, although Meiner has continued to produce albums for Wesley. Rick Rubin and Jello Biafra have released his records on American Records and Alterntative Tentacles, respectively, and one of his albums was produced by The Dust Brothers.

Genuinely inspired, Willis has become something of a narrator for underground rock culture, and in the process, has become a cult legend himself. Not surprisingly, critics have suggested that Willis’ success is mainly a result of his mental illness, overlooking the man’s raw talent and inner vision.

© J.Free / D.A.M.F.; 2001; 2022