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'Big Joe' Williams Belted The Blues With A Gritty Intensity

“Big Joe” Williams pounded out the Blues, usually on a nine string guitar of his own design. Despite a very raw, unpolished and proto-Punk sound, he seldom failed to win over an audience.


Born in Crawford, Mississippi, in 1903 Williams hit the road at an early age. He worked on the streets, bars, bawdy houses and work camps; just the kind of background that has produced many a raw and powerful Bluesman.

In the 1920s he rounded out his performing education touring with the tent show called The Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels, a group that nurtured many top African-American artists including Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Louis Jordan, Brownie McGhee, and Rufus Thomas.

“Big Joe’s” recording career started with the Birmingham Jug Band in 1930, he recorded solo fpr the first time in 1930 and was still recording into the 1970s. Perhaps his top accomplishment was becoming a standard fixture in 1950s and 60s Folk and Folk-Rock festivals. More than one audience started out displeased by Williams’ raw and jagged style only to end the show standing and cheering for more.


In an article describing a “Big Joe” Williams Greenwich Village performance in 1965, Marc Miller wrote:

“My date and I exchanged pained looks in empathy for what was being done by this Delta blues man who was ruefully out of place… “By the end of the set he had that audience of jaded '60s rockers on their feet cheering and applauding vociferously. Our initial pity for him was replaced by wondrous respect. He knew he had it in him to move that audience, and he knew that thousands of watts and hundreds of decibels do not change one iota the basic power of a song."

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