Personalities | Big Joe Williams | Thirties | Jazz & Blues

(Guitar, vocals, 1903–82)

Joe Lee Williams was born in Crawford, Mississippi to tenant farmer parents and by the age of five he was playing a homemade guitar. He left home in 1915 to hobo through the South. Williams worked tent shows and medicine shows with a jug band and as a soloist from 1918–24. Often accompanied by Little Brother Montgomery, he played brothels, labour camps and barrelhouses throughout Mississippi and Louisiana during the 1920s.

He made his recording debut for Bluebird in 1935 and one of his early recordings, ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, became a blues standard. He frequently recorded with Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson on Bluebird sessions in the late 1930s. Although Williams played both six- and 12-string guitars, he is most famous for playing a nine-string instrument of his own construction. He toured constantly and recorded into his late 70s.

Styles & Forms | Thirties | Jazz & Blues
Personalities | Sonny Boy Williamson | Thirties | Jazz & Blues

Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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