Willy D's and Me: 20 Years of Musical Magic

The Early Days: Discovering the Magic of Dueling Pianos

My journey with Willy D's began when I was fresh out of college, navigating the corporate maze as a Radio Frequency Engineer at Alltel Telecom Headquarters. While my professional life was steadily on course, my heart yearned for a more free spirited, entreprenuerial path. With a decade of classical piano training under my belt, I found myself drawn to the intoxicating allure of Willy D's Rock & Roll Piano Bar. 

I remember the trepidation I felt as I approached the mic, not as a pianist, but as a singer. I got up and played some terribly slow Sarah McLachlan song, which somehow got the attention of the players who invited me to learn the concept.  Mike Matthews, Tommy Smith, and Michael Hosch were the players in those days. I stand on the shoulders of these giants!

The supportive environment of Willy D's, the camaraderie among the players, and the infectious energy of the sing-along concept bolstered my confidence and soon, that hesitancy turned into 5 nights a week of learning the concept. I was addicted. I'd work 50+ hours at my corporate job and dedicate every other second I had to learning songs and performing many times 5 nights a week. 

I eventully left corporate world and chased this music career that has taken me all over the world. I have Willy D's to thank for that genesis.

Memories Crafted Around Pianos and Laughter

Over the years, Willy D's has transformed from not just a piano bar to an emblem of celebration. I've witnessed patrons find love, friends roast each other during celebrations, and countless birthdays, anniversaries, wedding parties, and even divorce parties (yes, you read that right!) being celebrated in style. 

It's this electric atmosphere that has made Willy D's more than just a venue; it's a family, a community bound together by shared experiences, hearty laughter, harmonious singing, and recognizable music by request from all genres, every decade.

The friends I've made over the years have become some of my closest. The beauty is I make new friends every weekend I perform there. Though I'm not there performing every night now at Willy D's, I am the Co-Entertainment Director with Matteo Ellis. I also am the Marketing Director. I'm very rooted on and off stage with Willy D's. 

It's important that we bring top notch talent to our stage, so you will find world class freelancing piano players every weekend there from all over nation.

I'd be remiss to not mention that I met my husband, Cliff Prowse, on Willy D's stage May 6, 2016. You all know us as “Cliff & Susan," and there would not be our duo and marriage without Willy D's. I'll never forget meeting at rehearsal one week at Willy D's. Cliff had me at his Purple Rain guitar solo. LOL. 

We immediately began working together at my show in Hot Springs at Oaklawn Casino, and we played at Willy D's off and on. Love happened and we eloped in Vegas in 2017. Cliff used to just play guitar, fiddle and drums. Now he is a dueling piano player, too!  He is my partner for the night of our Willy D's Turning 20 Celebration, Saturday, August 26, 2023.

A Nod to the Past: Honoring the Pillars of Willy D's

As we celebrate 20 glorious years of Willy D's, I must pay homage to the visionaries who started it all - the twin brothers, William and Don Ray. Their names are where “Willy D's” got it's name. 

Their unwavering dedication laid the foundation for Willy D's, and Danny Brown, our current owner, has been the torchbearer of their legacy. Their combined vision and effort have been instrumental in making Willy D's the heartbeat of Little Rock's nightlife.

I can't believe Willy D's is 20, because it seems like yesterday I was standing out front visiting with Will and Don about business, players, and the next cool things we could do to make us THE SPOT in Little Rock. Back in those days they were here every night making sure our Willy D's family was in tact, partying and providing top shelf service and entertianment. 

Looking Ahead: The Future of Willy D's and Dueling Pianos

As we bask in the fond memories of the past, our sights are firmly set on the future. I am personally invested in nurturing the next generation of dueling piano players. Through our Entertainers Academy Cliff and I have launched, we're molding the future performers, helping to ensure that the legacy of Willy D's and the unique charm of dueling pianos continues to thrive. 

After all, music, at its core, is about connections, bringing people together, and creating timeless memories. 

Final Thoughts

As I reflect on the past two decades, I'm filled with gratitude for every moment, every note, and every memory that has been crafted at Willy D's. 

From the early days of overcoming my singing fears to witnessing the profound impact of music on countless patrons, the journey has been nothing short of magical. 

A big shoutout to our incredible Willy D's community, our Willy D's Staff and Team - you've made this journey memorable, and I can't wait to see what the future holds. 

Cheers to more music, more memories, and many more nights of getting our 'Willy on'!

All of my love,

Susan Erwin Prowse