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Author Topic: Big Joe Williams marker  (Read 1740 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Big Joe Williams marker
« on: November 02, 2008, 12:06:26 PM »
Posting this item that appeared elsewhere in cyberspace. Note the discussion of Big Joe's unusual G tuning.

http://www.dailytimesleader.com/content/view/89379/1/

Big Joe Williams honored with Blues Trail Marker
Thursday, 30 October 2008

By Richard Ramsey

Please mark your calendars for the upcoming Mississippi Blues Trail
Marker Ceremony that will take place on Monday, Nov. 3, at 4 p.m. MDA
Tourism Heritage Trails Program, the Mississippi Blues Commission, and
the Columbus/Lowndes County Convention and Visitors Bureau,
will honor Big Joe Williams on Main Street at City Hall in Crawford.

Born in Crawford, Mississippi, Williams as a youth began wandering
across the United States busking and playing stores, bars, alleys and
work camps. In the early 1920s he worked in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels
revue and recorded with the Birmingham Jug Band in 1930 for the Okeh
label.

In 1934, he was in St. Louis, where he met record producer Lester
Melrose who signed him to a contract with Bluebird Records in 1935. He
stayed with Bluebird for ten years, recording such blues hits as ?Baby,
Please Don?t Go? (1935) and ?Crawlin? King Snake? (1941), both songs
later covered by many other performers. He also recorded with other
blues singers, including John Lee ?Sonny Boy? Williamson, Robert
Nighthawk and Peetie Wheatstraw.

Williams remained a noted blues artist in the 1950s and 1960s, with his
guitar style and vocals becoming popular with folk-blues fans. He
recorded for the Trumpet, Delmark, Prestige and Vocalion labels, among
others. He became a regular on the concert and coffeehouse circuits,
touring Europe and Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and
performing at major U.S. festivals.

Marc Miller described a 1965 performance in Greenwich Village:

Sandwiched in between the two sets, perhaps as an afterthought, was the
bluesman Big Joe Williams (not to be confused with the jazz and rhythm
and blues singer Joe Williams who sang with Count Basie). He looked
terrible. He had a big bulbous aneuristic protrusion bulging out of his
forehead. He was equipped with a beat up old acoustic guitar which I
think had nine strings and sundry homemade attachments and a wire hanger
contraption around his neck fashioned to hold a kazoo while keeping his
hands free to play the guitar.

Needless to say, he was a big letdown after the folk rockers.

My date and I exchanged pained looks in empathy for what was being done
this Delta blues man who was ruefully out of place. After three or four
songs the unseen announcer came on the p. a. system and said, ?Lets have
a big hand for Big Joe Williams, ladies and gentlemen; thank you, Big
Joe?.

But Big Joe wasn?t finished. He hadn?t given up on the audience, and he
ignored the announcer. He continued his set and after each song the
announcer came over the p. a. and tried to politely but firmly get Big
Joe off the stage. Big Joe was having none of it, and he continued his
set with his nine-string acoustic and his kazoo.

Long about the sixth or seventh song he got into his groove and started
to wail with raggedy slide guitar riffs, powerful voice, as well as
intense percussion on the guitar and its various accoutrements. 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.

Big Joe?s guitar playing is decidedly in the Delta Blues style, and yet
is unique. He played driving rhythm and virtuosic lead lines
simultaneously and sang over it all. He played with picks both on his
thumb and index finger, plus his guitar was very heavily modified.
Williams added a rudimentary electric pick-up, whose wires coiled all
over the top of his guitar. He also added three extra strings, creating
unison pairs for the first, second and fourth strings. His guitar was
usually tuned to Open G, like such: (D2 G2 D3D3 G3 B3B3 D4D4), with a
capo placed on the second fret to set the tuning to the key of A. During
the 1920s and 1930s, Big Joe had gradually added these extra strings in
order to keep other guitar players from being able to play his guitar.
In his later years, he would also occasionally use a 12-string guitar
with all strings tuned in unison to Open G. It is little known that Big
Joe sometimes tuned a six-string guitar to an interesting modification
of Open G. In this modified tuning, the bass D string (D2) was replaced
with a .08 gauge string and tuned to G4. The resulting tuning was (G4 G2
D3 G3 B3 D4), with the G4 string being used as a melody string by Big
Joe. This tuning was used exclusively for slide playing. He was inducted
into the W. C. Handy Blues Hall of Fame on Oct. 4, 1992.

He died Dec. 17, 1982, in Macon. Big Joe is buried in private cemetery
outside Crawford near the Lowndes County line. His headstone was
primarilly paid for by friends and partially funded by acollection taken
up among musicians at Clifford Antone?s night club in Austin, Texas,
organized by California music writer Dan Forte, and erected through the
Mt. Zion Memorial Fund on Oct. 9, 1994. Harmonica virtuoso and one time
touring companion of Williams Charlie Musselwhite delivered the eulogy
at the unveiling. Williams? headstone epitaph, composed by Dan Forte,
proclaims him ?King of the 9 String Guitar?.

Remaining funds raised for Williams? memorial were donated by the Mt.
Zion Memorial Fund to the Delta Blues Museum in order to purchase the
last 9-string guitar from Williams? family. However, it was recently
discovered that the guitar purchased by the Museum is actually a
12-string guitar that Williams used in his later days. The last 9-string (a Fifties Kay
cutaway converted to Williams? 9-string specifications) is missing at
this time. Williams? previous 9-string (converted from a 1944 Gibson
L-7) is in the possession of Williams? ?road agent? and fellow traveler
Blewett Thomas.

 

Offline doctorpep

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Re: Big Joe Williams marker
« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2008, 06:50:11 PM »
Very interesting read. I seem to recall his performance of "Mean Stepfather" on one of the AFBF dvds being a bit off. I guess Williams sometimes needed a little time to warm up on stage, especially considering that he was in his sixties at the time the footage was recorded, and at the time that the concert in the article took place.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Online dj

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Re: Big Joe Williams marker
« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2008, 05:01:17 AM »
Thanks for posting that, Uncle Bud.

I know it's not exactly "country blues", but my favorite Big Joe Williams recordings are the ones he did for Columbia in 1947 accompanied by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson on harmonica, Ransom Knowling on bass, and Judge Riley on drums.  Joe was doing tough early Chicago blues in the same vein as Muddy Waters, Snooky and Moody, Sunnyland Slim, and others were doing at doing at the time, and he was doing it with a jumping little band.  If Sonny Boy had lived and he and Joe had continued making this kind of music, who knows what might have happened?  These recordings are collected on Document CD 6004, Big Joe Williams Volume 2. 

Offline doctorpep

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Re: Big Joe Williams marker
« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2008, 09:09:17 AM »
Thank you very much for the information. Who is Moody?
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Online dj

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Re: Big Joe Williams marker
« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2008, 09:55:07 AM »
Snooky and Moody were Snooky Pryor (harmonica, vocals) and Moody Jones (guitar, vocals).  They recorded, as a duet and singly, for several small Chicago labels in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  If you like Johnny Shines' music from that period, you'll probably like Snooky and Moody.   

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Big Joe Williams marker
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2008, 11:52:52 AM »
Snooky and Moody were Snooky Pryor (harmonica, vocals) and Moody Jones (guitar, vocals).  They recorded, as a duet and singly, for several small Chicago labels in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  If you like Johnny Shines' music from that period, you'll probably like Snooky and Moody. 
Our ever resourceful friend Stefan has a Snooky Pryor discography which documents the recordings he made with Moody Jones at http://www.wirz.de/music/pryorfrm.htm

Offline doctorpep

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Re: Big Joe Williams marker
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2008, 06:32:35 PM »
Thank you very much for the information! I had never heard of Moody before, but knew of Pryor. I'll check out their stuff on Amazon.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

 


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