collapse

* Member Info

 
 
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

* Like Us on Facebook

If it's worth doing well, it's worth doing poorly, first - Joel Salatin

Author Topic: Willie Blackwell  (Read 3916 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline dj

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 2615
  • Howdy!
Willie Blackwell
« on: May 04, 2007, 05:25:19 AM »
A photo and brief bio of Willie Blackwell appeared in a 1993 Blues calendar.  The photo was taken by Steve LaVere in Memphis in 1971.

Blackwell was born in LaGrange, Tennessee in 1905 and died sometime around 1972.  His father and some members of the local Payne family taught him some basic guitar.  Blackwell apparently considered piano his main instrument during the 1920s and 30s, and didn't concentrate on the guitar until late in the 1930s when he was severely beaten by the friends of a pianist that he'd defeated in a talent contest.  At some point after 1942 he moved to Chicago and worked as a lead man for two blind gospel singers.  He later moved to Flint, Michigan, and worked for General Motors until his retirement.     

Offline jostber

  • Member
  • Posts: 627
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2007, 05:40:27 AM »
"Juniors a jap girl's christmas for his Santa Claus" is one of the most surreal blues songs ever!

Offline uncle bud

  • Administrator
  • Member
  • Posts: 8314
  • Rank amateur
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2007, 06:07:33 AM »
Blackwell apparently considered piano his main instrument during the 1920s and 30s, and didn't concentrate on the guitar until late in the 1930s when he was severely beaten by the friends of a pianist that he'd defeated in a talent contest.

How's that for dissing one's competition. Yikes.

Offline Bunker Hill

  • Member
  • Posts: 2832
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2007, 09:27:22 AM »
FWIW, the following is extracted from a feature on Detroit by Ron Harwood in Jazz Journal, June 1967 (p 6 & 7):

Dr. Ross could only remember the name of one other blues singer in the Flint area. It certainly was not much of a name to go on. Finding someone named '61' in a city the size of Flint was not a pleasant thought. But after a few trips to Flint (80 minutes out of Detroit) and a fair share of blind alleys, we finally located Willie '61' Blackwell living about a mile from the Buick automotive plant.

The nickname '61 was derived from a Bluebird recording that Willie made in 1942 called Highway 61 Blues. After several weeks had passed since we found Willie, Sam Stark noticed that Willie had been recorded by the Library of Congress in 1942 on Sadie Beck's plantation in Arkansas. The record was called 'Negro Blues and Hollers,' and the selection was Four O'Clock Flower Blues a song that he had also recorded for Bluebird.

The Northwest Folklore Society held a concert in which Willie appeared along with Little Sonny, Washboard Willie, Dr. Ross and Sippie Wallace. Prior to the concert, we had obtained very few complete songs by Willie. He was approaching senility and he constantly repeated the fact that he would soon be leaving for Chicago to record with 'Big Bill'. But in the concert, the applause of the audience snapped him out of his dream world and brought him round to singing all of his songs completely. We had learned that Willie, during the Twenties, had been a piano player for Rev. Connie Resmond (about whom no information can be found) and that he had quit playing piano after a serious wound in the left arm. So we had a piano on stage 'just in case' he might feel like playing it. After he had finished playing guitar and singing we ran across the stage and seated him at the piano. Then, as if the past was clouding his eves with memories, he began to play and sing as he had thirty-five years ago. Months of hard work melted into mere triviality as the piano banged out 1920's Chicago style blues. It was a moment I shall never forget. We learned that Willie was very friendly with Robert Johnson, the immortal Delta blues singer. After Willie's accident, it was Robert who taught him how to play the guitar. In 1941 Willie recorded eight sides for Bluebird. Some of them like Bald Eagle Blues, Four O'Clock Flower Blues and Highway 61 Blues are still played by Chicago musicians like Sunnyland Slim, who played Willie's Machine Gun Blues at this years Maraposa (Canada) Folk Festival.
[photos of Willie Blackwell, Washboard Willie and Little Sonny accompany the piece]



Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10771
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2007, 09:32:44 AM »
Thanks for posting that piece, Bunker Hill.  It seems like Willie would have been a great interview subject, had he only been found a few years earlier.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

  • Member
  • Posts: 2832
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2007, 09:33:52 AM »
I h-a-v-e a nagging feeling I've posted this before but can't find it via a search so here goes

The most puzzling title of all is listed in D&G as Junian, A Jap's Girl Christmas For His Santa Claus (sic), by Willie Blackwell, recorded by Alan Lomax in Arkansas in 1942. The song has been released on a Library of Congress album (Folk Music in America, Volume 10: Songs of War & History, LBC 10) as Junior, A Jap Girl's Christmas For Her Santa Claus. On Travelin' Man CD 07, Mississippi Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1942, it's called Junior's A Jap's Girl Christmas For His Santa Claus (sic). (The sics appear in the printed titles in Dixon & Godrich and on the CD.) In his book, Lomax refers to the song as A Jap Girl For Next Christmas From Santy Claus, and names the artist only as "Willie B." The L of C album notes even state: "Blackwell's song has one of the most bizarre titles in the Archive of Folk Song -- a title confirmed, incidentally, by his own announcement on the original disc." The opening verse, as transcribed in the booklet to LBC 10, is: "Goodbye I got to leave you, I got to fight for America, you and my boy/Goodbye babe, I hate to leave you, I got to fight for you, America and my boy/Well well, you can look for a Jap girl's Christmas, oooh lord baby, for Junior's Santa Claus." By these interpretations, I suppose Blackwell, who was preparing to serve his country in World War II, must have intended to capture a geisha girl and bring her home to Junior; or maybe the Japanese girl's Christmas was to be celebrated with Junior or Santa in some other way. Bizarre indeed.

However, upon relistening to the track, I've decided that we've been missing the all-too-gruesome point of Mr. Blackwell's tale of sending baby Junior a Japanese Christmas present. I'm sure the last line is: "Well, well, you can look for a Jap's SKULL Christmas, oooh Lord, baby, for Junior's Santa Claus." (The title, then, with missing words filled in, would be something like [I'm Going To Send] Junior A Jap's Skull [For] Christmas For His [Present from] Santa Claus.) (The term "Santa Claus" has been used elsewhere in blues and gospel to mean the Christmas gift, not jolly St. Nick himself -- a relevant line here would be Rev. A.W. Nix's "Death might be your Santa Claus" from Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift, recorded in 1927.) The bone-chilling connection is made clear by Blackwell's third verse: "Yes, when Junior starts to teethin', baby, please write to me/When Junior starts to teething, oh baby, please write to me/Well, well, I'm gonna send him a Jap's tooth so that he can cut his [with ease?]." On that deathly holiday note, we'll end this query with another one: Whatever happened to Willie Blackwell? He showed up in Memphis in the early '70s and may have gone back to Flint, Michigan, where he'd lived earlier. Did he ever aqcuire such grisly war souvenirs as he promised in his song? Anyone with knowledge of Willie Blackwell, please let us know. JIM O'NEAL
« Last Edit: May 04, 2007, 09:36:44 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline dj

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 2615
  • Howdy!
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2007, 10:41:40 AM »
Bunker Hill,

Thanks for taking the time to dig out all the Willie Blackwell information.  I'd had a vague recollection of the Jim O'Neal piece but misremembered almost all of the particulars.

Offline Bunker Hill

  • Member
  • Posts: 2832
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2007, 10:48:05 AM »
I'd had a vague recollection of the Jim O'Neal piece but misremembered almost all of the particulars.
You're forgiven - it was five years ago!  ;D

Offline Bunker Hill

  • Member
  • Posts: 2832
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2007, 01:25:15 AM »
Here's what John Cowley had to say in his 1978 booklet to Walking Blues (Flyright LP 541 - see Stefan's discography):

"...After his successful 1941 trip, in July 1942 Alan Lomax returned to Mississippi for more recordings and, on his way south, encountered Willie '61' Blackwell in Memphis--they almost certainly had to travel across the Mississippi River to Arkansas, to find a recordin& location because of harrassment from the Memphis police. 19 Blackwell purposefully recorded only two songs for Lomax, one a remake of Willie's earlier Bluebird B 8921 waxing "Four O'Clock Flower Blues" (AFS 6605 A 1), and the other, included here, the patriotic and extraordinary "Junior, A Jap's Girl Christmas For His Santa Claus"; which Willie sang '..because I'm an American citizen'.

Willie Blackwell is one of the most eccentric of all recorded bluesmen, the lyrics to his known compositions being among the most surreal blues on record, and it is probably for the latter reason that Lomax recorded him.

Lomax asked: 'How long have you been making up songs Willie?' 'Well, I've been just jivin' on with verses all my life but I never had no opportunity and never was very interested in 'em and therefore was quite natural, come natural...' he replied in a recorded interview following "Four O'Clock Flower Blues".

Nothing is known of Willie's guitar playing companion William Brown (not the same man as Willie Brown), excepting that in a few comments following Brown's recording of "East St. Louis Blues" (AFS 6606 A 2) he sounds an older man than Blackwell; a fact born out by Lomax asking Brown whether he knew pre-blues like "Stagolee" and "Railroad Bill", both of which William had 'forgotten'.

On a tip-off from southern and Detroit-Flint bluesman Dr. Ross, Willie '61' Blackwell was 'rediscovered' in Flint during the mid-60s by Ron Harwood and Sam Stark. From them we learn that Blackwell may have been an uncle of Calvin Frazier--yet another southern bluesman who moved to the Detroit area--and in 1968 was aged about 70 years. Originally a pianist, Blackwell switched to guitar 'after a serious wound in the left arm'--he told Alan Lomax that he had been 'ganged at a roadhouse' and that his hand had been broken.

Willie was well remembered by Memphis and Detroit blues musician Robert 'Baby Boy' Warren, with whom he was very friendly. Both lived in Memphis for a good part of their early lives--Blackwell told Lomax that he had been in Memphis practically all his life--and 'Baby Boy' claimed that his elder brother, Jack, helped Willie to learn to play guitar after his 'accident' Blackwell, however, told Harwood that Robert Johnson had taught him to play guitar. Both Warren and Harwood may be correct, certainly Blackwell seems to have been associated with Johnson's circle via his stepson Robert 'Junior' Lockwood; both Willie and Robert Jr. recorded for Bluebird in Chicago on 30 July 1941. Additionally, Blackwell's reported nephew, Calvin Frazier, was an associate of Johnson.

By about 1944 both 'Baby Boy' Warren and '61' Blackwell had moved to the Detroit area where they played together on the streets. Willie's subsequent movements up until the time of his 'rediscovery' are not known and he has now disappeared again, last being reported in Memphis during the Fall of 1970 and Spring of 1971.

Harwood and Stark indicate that 'Baby Boy' frequently recorded Blackwell's songs and similarities between their recorded repertoires gives some substance to this claim."

Offline Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 10771
    • johnmillerguitar.com
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2007, 10:05:10 PM »
Thanks for digging up all the additional information on Willie Blackwell, Bunker Hill.  I was particularly interested to find that he was a close friend of Robert Johnson, for when I stumbled upon Blackwell's references to Saginaw, Niagara Falls, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Pyrenees, I was immediately reminded of Robert Johnson's

   I'm gonna call up China, see if my good girl is over there
   If she ain't in the Phillipine Islands she must be in Ethiopia somewhere

Blackwell and Johnson seemed to share a liking of exotic places/place names, perhaps just for the sound of them and atmosphere they provided.  Interesting.
all best,
Johnm

 
« Last Edit: May 06, 2007, 09:06:48 AM by Johnm »

Offline Bunker Hill

  • Member
  • Posts: 2832
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2007, 10:54:33 AM »
The indefatigable Stefan has been at it again! http://www.wirz.de/music/bla61frm.htm

Offline Randy Meadows

  • Member
  • Posts: 177
  • Randy Meadows
Re: Willie Blackwell
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2012, 04:39:13 PM »
U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (Beta) U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (Beta)
Name: Will Blackwell
Residence Year: 1937
Street Address: 207 Keel av
Residence Place: Memphis, Tennessee
Occupation: Musician Rl
Publication Title: Memphis, Tennessee, City Directory, 1937
 
 
randymeadows@ymail.com
luvthatzeppelin on Youtube

 


SimplePortal 2.3.7 © 2008-2020, SimplePortal