Willis Earl Beal
Chicago singer/songwriter Willis Earl Beal began his foray into the music business by tacking hand-drawn flyers all over the greater metropolitan area with his phone number and address. The flyers said "My name is Willis Earl Beal. Call me and I'll sing you a song. Write to me and I'll draw you a picture." Beginning around the end of the 2000s, Beal was busking in train stations and making good on the promises of his flyers whenever the occasional call came in. In 2009 Found Magazine graced the cover of their seventh issue with a flyer Beal had made with a crude drawing of himself soliciting a soulmate. The issue also included an interview with Beal, and reader response was so strong to his open-hearted and quirky personality that Found went on to release a limited-edition CD collecting some of his home-recorded songs in 2011. Still living at his grandmother's house on Chicago's South Side, Beal began playing more proper gigs around town. His songs and recordings ran the gamut, from gospel confessional to noise-touched soul ballads, all characterized by his booming voice. His strange back-story and grassroots approach to self-promotion gained him a reputation as an outsider artist, and much more press coverage began to come his way following the Found Magazine article. In 2011 he inked a deal with Hot Charity, a subsidiary label of XL Records. Willis Earl Beal's debut LP, Acousmatic Sorcery, was slated for release in the spring of 2012, and he embarked upon his first tours in both the U.S. and Europe. He followed in 2013 with the more polished but still plenty quirky Nobody Knows, which featured cameo vocals on one tune from Cat Power's Chan Marshall. Beal split from Hot Charity for the release of 2014's Experiments in Time. The self-released third album again switched gears, tending toward a more dreamy, synth-heavy sound. Beal then signed with Portland's Tender Loving Empire. Calling it a concept album, Noctunes, chonicled the end of his brief marriage. It was released in August of 2015. ~ Fred Thomas
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