The Origins of “Grits Ain’t Groceries”

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It’s 1955. A man named Titus Turner, an east coast-based R&B composer and singer, pens a track he calls “All Around the World.” Great song. Titus Turner was a proven songwriter. Now he was lookin’ to top the charts as a singer too. Turner thought All Around the World would be his big break. And he coulda had a real hit there. Except fate took a different turn. The very same day the new record dropped, a seventeen-year-old kid strutted into the office of Turner’s record company. Asked for a record deal. The execs said, nah, we don’t need any new talent. Take a listen to this killer track we just released today. The kid heard the first few bars and said “I can do better than that.” All he had to do was sing the first line….and he was signed on the spot. Three hours later Little Willie John was in the booth cutting that very same song.

So it wasn’t Titus Turner’s version, but Little Willie John’s that became the mega-hit. Reached number 5 on the R&B charts, and propelled Little Willie to stardom. Made him, some say, the first soul superstar. As for Titus? He’s been largely forgotten as a performer, but his songs stayed current. “All Around the World” ended up being covered by everyone from Little Richard to Lou Rawls to Savoy Brown. But in my opinion, it reached its peak in 1968, when it was recorded by another of my favorite soul superstars, Little Milton CampbellHe calls it “Grits Ain’t Groceries.”