Big Joe Williams 9-string blues guitar

Big Joe Williams 9-string blues guitar

The Blues has a long history throughout the twentieth century, the Juke Joints, the Cottonfields, the Chicago clubs, the European festivals and the Chitlin’ circuit are just a small part of it. Some artist have seen it all,  and Big Joe Williams is one of them. He was there during the depression, during WW II, the post war era and the revival in the sixties. Maybe it was because he played a nine-string guitar? But probably because he was unique.

Big Joe Williams Performance

Big  Joe Williams, American Folk Blues Festival, Hamburg 1972 (Heinrich Klaffs Collection49)
Big Joe Williams, American Folk Blues Festival, Hamburg 1972 (Photo: Heinrich Klaffs Collection49)

Imagine the way Big Joe Williams sat down on a chair with his guitar full of cables and double strings on his leg, clearing his throat before he tells what the song  “Blues left Texas” is all about. He was a delta musician, most of the time accompanied by a double bass, harmonica and violin.

He was a great story teller, a streetwise man who had seen it all. He performed in the most sordid ghetto clubs and at the big blues festivals around the world. In 1931 he spend a short time at the Angola Louisiana state prison, where Leadbelly, and namesake Robert Pete Williams had spent their days too. Big Joe Would spent a short time at Angola, Robert Pete a life sentence for shooting a man. (Encyclopedia of the Blues , by Gérard Herzhaft p. 380)

Big Joe Williams after prison time

Big Joe would continue his musical mission in Angola by singing along the railroad tracks and singing in the musical groups. With his fierce singing style, rhythmic guitar style and notable bass because of the high notes, Big Joe Williams became a unique musician in the blues scene.

Big Joe Williams was Born in Crawford Mississippi in 1903, twenty two years later he moved to St. Louis. He met Bessie Smith and pianist Walter Davis there. Davis Who already had a record deal at Blue Bird, took Williams to Chicago around 1935. In Chicago Williams recorded six songs, among them “Baby Please Don´t Go”, probably Big Joe’s Greatest hit. (Encyclopedia of the Blues , by Gérard Herzhaft p. 381)

Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson I

Later on, and during World War II Big Joe Williams associated with John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson they recorded at Blue Bird together, sometimes accompanied by a drummer and bass player . Some of the recordings can you find here. After Williamson died, Big Joe Williams was everywhere, in Chicago, New Orleans, Memphis, Jackson and St. Louis. He was notable person, Dick Waterman and Blues historian Barry Lee Pearson met him and wrote the next two quotes down:

“Big Joe Williams was the savviest most street smart person I ever worked with.”

– Dick Waterman –

“Big Joe Williams may have been the most cantankerous human being who ever walked the earth with guitar in hand. At the same time, he was an incredible blues musician: a gifted songwriter, a powerhouse vocalist, and an exceptional idiosyncratic guitarist.”

– Barry Lee Pearson –

Big Joe Back to Mississippi

After a life full of recording and performing Big Joe Williams moved back to Mississippi where he passed away in 1982. Imagine Joe sitting on a chair, clearing his throat, and singing the blues. He was a notable bluesman with his 9 string guitar.


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