While working as a railroad laborer in Colchester, England, blue-eyed soul singer James Hunter would earn a little extra scratch at night by transforming himself into Howlin' Wilf. Hunter had grown up in a trailer in the middle of an onion field. He didn't care much for what was on the radio, but he loved his grandmother's old records. The voices of Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke echoed across the onion field, and Hunter was developing into what Van Morrison would one day declare was "one of the best voices, and best-kept secrets," in British R&B and soul. He assumed the alias Howlin' Wilf and landed a steady stream of gigs in London that eventually influenced him to move there. After he sent a demo to Ted Carroll at Ace Records, Carroll introduced him to guitarist Dot and bassist Tony Hilton. The trio became Howlin' Wilf & the Veejays and made their debut in 1986 with Cry Wilf! on the Big Beat label. Former Polecats guitarist Boz Boorer, a future member of Morrissey's band, produced the album.
A year later the EP Blue Men Sing the Whites and the live album Live Wilf appeared, then in 1988 a self-titled album was released on the Unamerican label. Guitarist Andy Neal spent some time in the Veejays before he and Dot left to join Shout Sister Shout. With the Veejays broken up, Hunter would spend the next couple years in obscurity, although he would play three dates in his big fan Van Morrison's band in 1991 (one of the gigs is captured on the Morrison bootleg Soul Labyrinth). He would reappear in 1996 using his real name and releasing the full-length ...Believe What I Say. After the success of his 2006 album People Gonna Talk, Big Beat reissued Howlin' Wilf's Cry Wilf! on CD in October of that year. ~ David Jeffries