Willie “Little Beaver” Hale On The Making of “Cleanup Woman”


Little Beaver, Timmy Thomas, Willie Clarke, and Henry Stone – ©Jacob Katel

“Henry Stone had Betty Wright, Helene Smith, Della Humphrey… And I was a up and coming musician and a singer. I was well known in the Miami nightclub scene. I kinda dominated it for a while.

So one day I remember going out to Hialeah to T.K. Productions and they had a session going, and I wasn’t involved. I wasn’t on the session. I think Jerome Smith that played guitar on “Rock Your Baby” and ended up with KC was the guitar player.

And I think they was using Bree from the Bahamas on drums.

They were rehearsing, but the studio was always open. It was not a place where you couldn’t go in. Ever.

You’d just walk in on the session.

They was doin it and I heard what they was doing and I didn’t like it. I thought it could be better for Betty Wright and Willie Clarke.

Willie “Little Beaver” Hale back in the day

But we was like a team. They let me….They allowed me to take over and show them how it should be, what would sound better. And since I was well known they didn’t put up a fight. Clarence didn’t protest and Jerome Smith was like a protege of mine and he loved to see me play and learn from me. I took the seession over as the arranger. It was just rhythm. They overdubbed horns later.

I played the guitar. I took the lick from Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” the guitar lick, and I chopped it up. It didn’t sound the same. I put the rhythm and some breaks and chord changes and played the overdubs and wala!

As a team we did it. And Clarence came up with lyrics and I changed the original changes. I added the spice to it. It was Clarence’s idea, his concept. Betty did the vocals and she had the voice. And Willie Clarke was the motivator and the engineer. Everybody did their part. I wasn’t crazy bout the drummer but it worked and the funny thing is when we finished I walked out and I figured it was just another tune. I didn’t look forward to it. It was a gimmick song. There I am tryin’ to make serious blues and a few other things and “Cleanup Woman” was a novelty kinda like but boy, was I wrong.

cleanup woman

It captivated me to when I heard it on the radio, and I was like “Man, that’s “Cleanup Woman,” that’s me! Damn!”

I didn’t know it would sound so good. And the way the guitar came in even before the drums…the guitar had a syncopation, a beat you could dance by without any other music than that guitar. I was amazed. It had something to do with the studio. I’d never heard a guitar that sounded so clear and clean. I had cut records at Criteria and different places, but I never heard guitar sound that way. I gotta give credit to Willie Clarke and Steve Alaimo. I was flabbergasted and I was very proud of myself  and I really thought of it as my record, that’s me man. And right up to this day when I hear it I get goosebumps.

“Cleanup Woman” sounds just like it did 30 or 40 years ago. It still sounds good. And usually you get tired of hearing a good record that was a hit. But not that one. That one and “Party Down” are my favorites.”

  • From a September 16, 2014 interview with Willie “Little Beaver” Hale

©Jacob Katel. All Rights Reserved


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