On May 31, Little Willie’s is closing with a musical bash featuring Crosseyed Mary – “one of my favorite bar bands,” according to the publican himself, the 5 foot three inch, Willis Soesbe.
“The reason I got in was I wanted to see what it was like to run a business for myself, and the main reason I’m getting out is because of my health,” he said, especially thanking the Hennigar families for their support, as well as other people too numerous to name. “I made a lot of friends and very few enemies, and I was blessed to have them as my customers.”
Before opening his own bar, Willie worked at the Wright County Monitor during his junior year of high school under then-owner Bill Hauser. He subsequently was employed at Allen Printing for 16 years. He has been a D.J. for 25 years, work which he plans to continue after his retirement from bartending. His bar’s building itself remains for sale.
In celebration of the classic, soon-to-be-closed Clarion watering hole, local music aficionado Craig Radechal generously shared his memories of the place and its concerts with the Monitor:
So 17 years ago Willis Soesbe takes a chance to become his own boss. Little Willie's bar is open shortly afterward. I'm not sure if he could have expected what would come of it, the ups and downs, the fun, the friends, the music...Ahhh the music!!
As we look at the cabinets and walls, Willis and I, know a lot of music has rolled through the door. An early Larry Myer & the Ring promo poster in the case to a Doctor Murdock sticker on a cooler behind the bar are just a couple pieces of music memorabilia. The memorabilia consists of posters, photos, drumsticks and CD's, almost all autographed.
Willis has always enjoyed the live music by local and some big name acts. He chuckled a little when some of the touring bands would call, like Black Oak Arkansas did their third time playing there. They gave him less than a week to promote a "gas stop" show. Willis and staff came through and Black Oak rock and rolled the crowd again.
The local bands he enjoyed supporting ranged from The Mudpuppies from Iowa Falls, the Fort Dodge area bands ski band, Urban Decay, Tickler, Axis, Cave Band, Spooky Mojo, Wild Childhood, Hell or High Water, The O Bro's from Kanawha/Clarion, Crosseyed Mary, Doctor Murdock from Clarion/Ames and the Mumfords from Ames. Willis told me about when the Murdock boys were starting out, bringing in guitars and playing in the backroom.
Some bigger names rolled through the door. The before mentioned Black Oak Arkansas, guitarist Porkchop, The Kelly Richey band, Johnnie Bolin Band (Tommy's brother), Kurt Hansen Band (one time lead singer of Head East), The Buffalo Club, Joe Santana (cousin of Carlos), Wisconsin blues guitarist James Solberg, Denots on their "Jager" promoted Tour and John Lee Hooker Jr. Many of these bands played multiple times which Willis stated "As one of the many perks" The other perks were becoming friends with many of the artists. A perk for music fans was to have the artists sit and talk with you at your table.
The biggest event to take place was the Glen Buxton Memorial weekend. It was celebrating the life of Glen the original lead guitarist for Alice Cooper. He spent the last years of his life in Clarion. Alice's other guitarist Micheal Bruce's Band played. The original bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith joined in some classic Cooper songs. Sadly, Alice was a no-show. People did come from many states, Canada and overseas to attend this awesome event. It was cool...much like Glen was.
Willis had many Karaoke nights and was the DJ for all those other weekend nights. He also hosted over 50 comedians over the years. Little Willie's provided a massive amount of entertainment for a small town bar.
So now, after 17 years, Willis is moving on. I would certainly hope anyone who danced to the DJ, sang Karaoke or played in a band at Little Willie's can join Willis and staff Saturday nite, May 31rd, along with the rocking tunes of Crosseyed Mary.