Welcome to “Original Rock Legends!” To celebrate Geva’s final show this season, the hit musical Million Dollar Quartet directed by Hunter Foster, I’m taking you through a musical journey, uncovering the history behind the songs featured in Million Dollar Quartet.
This week, we’re exploring rock music legends who are not part of the Million Dollar Quartet, but whose music is included in the musical Million Dollar Quartet to honor their profound impact on early rock ‘n’ roll:
“Never know how much I love you/Never know how much I care/When you put your arms around me/I get a fever that’s so hard to bear/You give me fever, when you kiss me/Fever when you hold me tight/Fever in the morning/Fever all through the night.”
Eddie Cooley reached out to his buddy Otis Blackwell in 1956 with the idea for “Fever,” saying, “Man, I got an idea for a song called ‘Fever,’ but I can´t finish it.” Blackwell was happy to help, but had to co-write the song under the pseudonym “John Davenport” because he was still under a binding contract to write exclusively for music producer Joe Davis. When Cooley and Blackwell completed the song, a barely 18-year-old Little Willie John cut the song’s first recording. “Fever” became a huge hit in the charts, and the first of Little Willie John’s recordings to cross over into the white market: It was #1 on Billboard’s R&B Bestsellers chart for three weeks, and peaked at 24 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Now, “Fever” is an American standard, and has enjoyed a long history of famous covers by Elvis Presley, Madonna, Beyoncé, The Doors, and of course, Peggy Lee.
It’s interesting that Million Dollar Quartet’s fictional character, Dyanne, covers “Fever” in the musical: Little Willie John’s recording had just come out the year the Million Dollar Quartet had their impromptu 1956 jam session, but Dyanne’s sultry feminine version seems to recall the famous Peggy Lee recording, which actually wasn’t made until 1958. Is Dyanne a physical stand-in for the female rock/R&B legends to come?
Here’s the original Little Willie John recording of “Fever”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jug9ff2BJYA
By comparison, here’s Peggy Lee’s 1958 recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4hXyALR9vI
And, just for fun, here’s Elvis Presley’s 1960 cover of “Fever:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSeyfWTLnWg
Thanks for tuning in to “Original Rock Legends!” We’ll be back on Wednesday with more stories behind the legendary musicians who defined rock ‘n’ roll. This program is sponsored by Geva Theatre Center, where the Million Dollar Quartet comes back to life, LIVE onstage, now through June 25th. Until next time, rock on my friends!