One of Willie Hightower’s fondest memories was singing with the Drifters. Today, he lives a tranquil life taking care of his 93-year-old mother at his Gadsden home.
He is a singer, songwriter, producer and an Alabama Music Maker.
Hightower has always been passionate about music. He sang in church at age 6, and at 18 crossed over to performing rhythm and blues in area clubs.
Early in his career he began to work with WENN-AM radio personality Shelley Stewart, who started booking shows for Hightower and Clarence Carter. Stewart was so impressed with Hightower, he sent a demo tape to Bobby Robinson in New York City.
Robinson had been looking for the next Sam Cooke since Cooke’s death in 1964. Hightower soon would travel often to New York to record music.
Stewart would be Hightower’s manager for 10 years. Robinson helped get Hightower signed by Capitol Records.
His 1965 debut release “It’s Too Late” and two follow-ups preceded Hightower’s first national hit in 1969, “It’s A Miracle.” The next year brought his biggest seller, “Walk A Mile in My Shoes” for producer Rick Hall’s Fame label in Muscle Shoals.
Hightower kept singing, touring with a new iteration of the Drifters for 10 years and later forming a family band with his five daughters. “It was a thrill. I really enjoyed singing with them,” he said.
Last fall, Hightower released a country album titled “Out of the Blue.” It’s not what one would expect from a seasoned rhythm and blues and soul singer.
Ten months after being released in the United Kingdom, “Out of the Blue” has not been released in the U.S., although it is available online.
Hightower hopes to take his new songs on the road in America, something he hasn’t done in decades. “I play an occasional show, but I haven’t toured here in years,” he said.
He wants to be known and loved. “I’ve tried to do what I know is right. Music means everything to me. I’ve never known anything else,” Hightower said. “No retirement for me.”