Reverend Billy Wirtz is a blues raconteur, keyboard player, and all around character... in addition to actually being a licensed minister. Here's an article he wrote about O.V. Wright for the Blueswax E-Zine a couple of years ago:
As as musican/writer/DJ, I am always talking music with other players. I have talked to scores of great musicians, and virtually everyone that has ever heard him mentions O.V. Wright.
Matter of fact, my girlfriend read this article in Blueswax [where it was originally published], and then went and bought the MCA album. She approached me after a gig almost a year ago, to express how much she loved his music. I sat there and did the mental checklist:
Gorgeous blonde -
Reads my articles - check
Loved the O. V. Wright album - check and double check...
Don't let this one get away! We've been together ever since...
This article was first published in Blueswax in March 2005.
THE ACE OF SPADES
O.V. Wright is the lost voice of soul music. If you dig Otis Redding, O.V. will make you sit down and cry.
Matter of fact, O.V.'s first ballad, "That's How Strong My Love Is," was so strong that Otis borrowed it and had a sizable hit.
Overton Vertis Wright was born October 9, 1939, in Leno, Tenn. He started out in gospel music with The Sunset Travelers. Grover Blake, the bands' musical director, said: "When I got O.V., we would let him sing just one song, and he could just stand straight, wouldn't even move, just stand. It was such a tremendous voice that when he'd get to a certain peak in his voice, people couldn't stand it anymore..."
That voice, that intensity, carried over into his secular recordings. He never lost the gospel feel; he just changed the word Jesus to baby.
"You're Gonna Make Me Cry," "Eight Men and Four Women," and his signature song of being cast out into the wilderness, "Nickel and a Nail," were the bleak and uncompromising cries of a beaten man torn between sin and salvation.
It didn't hurt that the great producer Willie Mitchell, who later found fame with Al Green, was involved with O.V.'s best recordings. Together they recorded for Don Robey's Backbeat label and later for Hi Records in Memphis, Tenn.
Unlike some of the more popular singers of his era, O.V. didn't sing fun songs about girls named Sally who drove their Mustangs too fast.
In O.V.'s world, Sally couldn't have made the payments, and if she did, it would have been because she had turned a trick or stolen his money. While Otis was contemplating life on The Dock of the Bay, O.V. was being tossed out by his girlfriend and trying to figure out how to survive with nothing in his pockets but a Nickel and A Nail.
Wright didn't have to stretch too far to sing about pain. His personal life was a nightmare. He was blind, and he never shook a terrible addiction to heroin. He died in the back of an ambulance, strung out, broke and alone, at the age of 41.
A quarter of a century after his sad and untimely death, Wright's music still packs a jolt. He is one of the untouchables. His music may be covered, but will never be bettered. Ask Taj Mahal or Curtis Salgado or Rick Estrin. The great mystery writer George Pelecanos mentions him several times in his latest book, "Hard Revolution."
Blue-eyed soul legend Billy Price sums it up best: "Lets not mince words: O.V. Wright was the greatest deep-soul singer ever."