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Nine O'clock Blues: Mighty Joe Young

Lionel Decoster
Creative Commons

This week on The Nine O’clock Blues we’ll hear several tracks from Mighty Joe Young, who’s vocal and guitar style bridged the gap between the Chicago of Muddy Waters and James Cotton and the contemporary Blues scene.

Born Joseph Young in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1927, Young was raised in Milwaukee. While lots of Blues musicians can offer up a virtual knockout punch, Mighty Joe Young could do it for real. Before he became known as a Blues musician Young was training to be a boxer.

While he was still living in Milwaukee he started playing guitar in the early 1950s and played in area nightclubs soon after. He moved home to Louisiana to play local clubs and was recording there by the mid-1950s.  


In the late 50s he moved to Chicago for sometime, staying into the 60s. Mighty Joe Young was considered the busiest sideman in town. He played in Otis Rush’s band for several years and also worked with Magic Sam, Willie Dixon, Billy Boy Arnold, Koko Taylor and Jimmy Rogers.

Unlike many Black Chicago musicians who had trouble breaking out of the South Side ghetto, Mighty Joe was able to work the North Side clubs frequented mostly by Whites. While often playing the clubs, he also became a staple of U.S. and European Blues festivals and was very much in demand in the recording studios.


Young recorded a number of albums in the 1970s and started another in 1986, this one self-financed. While working on the album that would become Mighty Man, Mighty Joe suffered a pinched nerve in his neck that severely debilitated him and restricted his guitar playing.

He worked very hard for 10 years to learn to walk and play guitar again.

Through incredibly hard work he regained his strength and again become a powerful onstage presence and played into his 70s when he died of complications from back surgery related to his neck problems. The loss of Mighty Joe Young in 1999 ended a career that was a major link between the classic mid-twentieth century days of Chicago Blues and the new school of the 1980s and 90s.

Also on this week’s show we’ll hear from three new CDs just out: The Robert Cray Band’s Nothin’ But Love, Deanna Bogart’s Pianoland and Bad Boy from Magic Slim and the Teardrops.

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