Under The Influence: Chris Willis | Features | MN2S

House music singer Chris Willis is the voice behind some of the genre’s biggest tracks of recent times. Featuring on a slew huge David Guetta tracks from ‘Love Is Gone’ to ‘Every Time We Touch’ over the last 13 years, he has been an enduring and hugely successful collaborator. He’s also a songwriter and has contributed vocals for the likes of country Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Quincy Jones and Dusty Springfield. We asked him to pick out the musical legends who have inspired him to do what he does over the years.


I’m a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s so my influences probably date me a piece. But I don’t mind. They’re like little angels resting on my shoulder whether I’m in the studio or rocking out on stage. The top five influences of my musical life run so deep that channelling them is virtually second nature.

Michael Jackson

First on my list is Michael Jackson my favourite singer of all time. From the first time I ever heard Michael over the airwaves on WDAO, Soul Radio in Dayton, Ohio on the first day of school, I knew I’d found an idol I would worship for years to come. I can still hear ‘ABC’ playing in my brain as if it were yesterday. Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five leaped into my soul back then with incredible charisma, with that hot-like-fire Motown memorable sound.

There was always the gift of a melody that burned in my head and wouldn’t let go. ‘I’ll Be There’, ‘Rockin’ Robin’ and fast-forward to ‘She’s Out of My Life’, ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’, Michael himself and his voice changed with the times but never ceased to amaze us with what universe of his own making he would conquer next. Following Michael’s career from way back then all the way through to ‘Thriller’, this epic tidal wave of passion, dance and worldwide impact was the inspiration that fuelled all I’ve ever dreamed of emulating and still do to this day. I want to be like Mike so bad it’s crazy. One day. One day!

Donny Hathaway

I am a child of the ‘80s but my earliest memories of music are like a trip down old school soul music lane. My parents kept our house alive with all kinds of music from the Gospel of James Cleveland, Andre Crouch and The Hawkins Singers all the way to Gladys Knight & The Pips, Lou Rawls and Stevie Wonder. It’s a good thing they did because when I was old enough to start my own musical collection, I discovered the sultry melancholy tone of Donny Hathaway ‘The Closer I Get To You’, his passionate duet with Roberta Flack which always made my ears stand to attention. In a way I found a muse in his lilting baritone and that reminded me of my own voice. At last I found a voice that I could copy and follow to the “T”.

The way Donny’s riff and licks turned a phrase into colourful magic and made me believe that just like I heard his voice do everything he wanted it to, I could too! I just wanted to make people feel when they heard me the way I always felt after listening to him. Ear candy with a voice married to a melody so well, there’s no resistance.


No-one in the world can take a melody and drip it with the kind of deep sensuality wrapped in a mellow baritone and then turn the fire right up into a gut curdling falsetto like Prince! It’s impossible to resist taking on the vamp on ‘Purple Rain’, ‘Raspberry Beret’ and ‘Diamonds And Pearls’. Prince and Prince & The Revolution gave me permission to be as vibrant and alive with my personal style as my vocal ability could allow.

Almost nobody rules the guitar with the romantic passion of a man with his first love like Prince. I’ve never mastered the guitar but watching him in such control of a stringed instrument and his voice kept me devoted to playing an instrument, which for me happens to be the piano as well as I can sing.


Here’s where my musical inspirations shift from soul in first gear and rev up to third on that bumpy crossing over that bridge to pop. The more I discovered what I loved about the power of music – how an album on the radio could reach millions of people and going to a concert like seeing Tina Turner on her Wildest Dreams Tour, Lenny Kravitz on his American Woman Tour, and Patti Labelle at the Grand Ole Opry – the more my vocal ambitions evolved along with my taste in my favourite artists.

Over time I picked up so many musical indulgences it’s hard to narrow it down sometimes. Along the way, I discovered that my desire to make a statement with my music was almost as strong as my passion for singing itself. I didn’t just want to stand in one spot and sing like many of the crooners I loved and admired. I wanted my persona to be fluid. I hungered to cultivate an onstage persona that was as charismatic as the dynamic sounds flowing into my soul during long headphone sessions spent listening to my favourite artist for hours and hours on end.

In my exploration of musical muses, right in the middle of the eighties alongside hair bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Journey, out came my captivation with Madonna. She evolved into a guilty pleasure in my mind. This suburban black kid from Ohio had figured out this ambitious blonde from Detroit was turning the industry on it’s head. A new fixation was born in me that I never really expected. In no time flat, Boy George, Cindy Lauper, The Thompson Twins, the Eurythmics and Madonna were ruling the radio and MTV. From ‘Borderline’ and ‘Holiday’ all the way to ‘Like A Prayer’ and ‘Vogue’, it wasn’t her voice so much as it was her irresistible persona that grasped my attention.

While I’m not the kind to throw on a blonde wig and prance across the stage any time soon, I carry around so much respect for charismatic singer/dancers like Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, James Brown and Elvis who give me the courage to leap out into the audience with my voice and all the energy I have in my soul. It’s the way each of them captured the voice of their generation that motivates me to pull everything I have from the inside and belt out all the energy and power I have onto a track or any chance I take the stage with the full intent to captivate everybody listening.

Lenny Kravitz

He has it all. He’s got style. Looks. He’s strong yet gentle. All the fire of a rock and roll god merged with fire of soul and streetwise charm. There’s all of the mystery and yet there’s this deep vulnerability. I discovered Lenny Kravitz on my journey to merge my gospel background with my passion for popular music. Lenny to me is the convergence of all things I find sacred about soul, fully aligned with the artistic elements that make me passionate about making music because it’s cool. There is true inspiration in so much of his music.

Among my favourites is his distorted vocal on ‘Fly Away’. He takes risks with his vocal, a thing I try to do as much as possible. He’s got that guitar musicianship that I admire in Prince and any vocalist who’s mastered an instrument, while paying homage to the legend Jimi Hendrix. He’s so accessible you hardly realise he’s transcended ethnicity right before your very eyes. This is the kind of conscious evolution I live for and aspire toward in all of my songs like ‘Gettin Over’, ‘Just A Little More Love’ and ‘Love Is Gone’.

Click here to read our other Under The Influence features.

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