Wednesday, October 29, 2008
On his headstone Big Joe Williams is proclaimed to be "King of the 9 String Guitar." It's doubtful that anyone disagrees. It's probably even safer to say that nobody really knows the name of whoever claimed to be second best.
A contemporary of Lonnie Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, Roosevelt Sykes, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, Peetie Wheatstraw, Robert Nighthawk, and a very young Muddy Waters who played harmonica for Big Joe Williams in the early '40's at juke joints around Mississippi. Williams created the 9 string guitar to make his sound original. But he didn't need a novelty string instrument to make himself a standout and an eventual W.C. Handy Blues Hall of Fame singer/songwriter/guitarist. One of 16 children, he was a talented bluesman from Crawford, Mississippi who taught himself to play on a homemade guitar at the age of five. His very first hit in 1935, "Baby Please Don't Go" became a shortlist blues standard, covered by his one-time harmonica player Muddy Waters, among many others.
Here's Big Joe's version from 1963 on YouTube.
On Monday November 3rd in his hometown of Crawford at four in the afternoon, Big Joe Williams once again will be proclaimed "King of the 9 String" with a Blues Heritage Trail Marker.
Don't expect anyone to challenge it. Not on Monday. Not ever.