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Lefty Dizz

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In a town like Chicago, where the competition in blues clubs was tough and keen (and still is on a hot night), certain musicians quickly learned that sometimes red-hot playing and singing didn't always get the job done by themselves. You had to entertain, put on a show, because there was always someone looking to take your gig away from you. Only those willing to protect their bandstand -- and their livelihood in the long run -- by generally peppering their presentation with a small to large dollop of showmanship were smart enough to hang in for the long run, keeping both their hometown audience and their turf intact. Although blues revisionist history always seems to overlook this, the show that T-Bone Walker, Guitar Slim, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, and others did in front of a Black audience was wilder and far more audacious than the one a more reserved White audience ever got to see. For wild-ass showmen in blues history, though, one would certainly have to go a far piece to beat Walter Williams, known to blues fans in Chicago and Europe as Lefty Dizz. A regular fixture of the Chicago scene from the mid-'60s into the early '90s, Lefty was quite a sight back in those days; fronting his band, Shock Treatment, playing and singing with an unbridled enthusiasm while simultaneously putting on a show that would have old-timers guffawing in appreciation while scaring White patrons out of their wits. As an entertainer, he was simply nothing less than a modern-day Guitar Slim informed with the outrage of a Hendrix, pulling out every trick in the book to win over an audience, whether he was protecting his home turf bandstand or stealing the show while sitting in somewhere else. It was nothing for him to play a slow blues, bring the band down, and start walking through the crowd dragging his beat-up Stratocaster behind him like a sack of potatoes, playing it with one hand the entire time. Or take on some young Turk axeman gunning for his scalp (and gig) by kicking off Freddie King's "Hideaway" at an impossibly fast tempo, calling for break after break while infusing all of them with so many eye-popping gags that the young Turk in question was merely reduced to becoming another member of the audience. As a bluesman, he was nothing less than deep and 100-percent for real. Nobody messed with Lefty Dizz. Born in Arkansas in 1937, Dizz (the nickname was bestowed on him by Hound Dog Taylor & the HouseRockers, appropriating it from drummer Ted Harvey, who used the name when he was "playing jazz in the alley") started playing guitar at age 19 after a four-year hitch in the Air Force. Entirely self-taught, he played a standard right-handed model flipped upside down, without reversing the strings. His sound was raw and distorted and his style owed more to the older bluesmen than to the hipper West Side players like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy working in the B.B. King mode. By the time he came to Chicago, he had honed his craft well enough to become a member of Junior Wells's band in 1964, recording and touring Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia with him until the late '60s. At various times during the '60s and early '70s, he'd also moonlight as a guitarist with Chicago stalwarts J.B. Lenoir and Hound Dog Taylor, while sitting in everywhere and playing with seemingly everyone. While being well-known around town as a "head cutter," Lefty Dizz was always welcome on anyone's bandstand. His personality, while seemingly carefree and humorous, masked a deep, highly intelligent individual who had also earned a degree in economics from Southern Illlinois University. He kept soldiering on in the blues trenches through the '90s when he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. While chemotherapy helped, Lefty went back to work far too soon and far too hard to stay on top of his game for much longer. The unflappable Dizz, who could seemingly make the best out of any given situation without complaint and had friends in the blues community by the truckload, finally passed away on September 7, 1993. And with his passing, the blues lost perhaps its most flamboyant showman. ~ Cub Koda

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Birth Name:

Walter Williams


29 April 1937 in Osceola, AR

Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s