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The Sonet Blues Story: Robert Pete Williams

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Album Review

Among the last of the great old country blues players discovered in the '60s, Robert Pete Williams was easily the most unique. His ragged griot approach to the blues paid little attention to standard rhymes or blues forms, allowing him to spin personalized stories of tremendous emotional power, even when he was working off of traditional pieces, and his songs take on the feel of a nakedly open journal. The recordings collected here were originally released as part of Samuel Charters' Legacy of the Blues series in 1973, and they carry an incredible intimacy, like all of Williams' work. They also feature some beautiful and ghostly acoustic slide guitar playing, a skill Williams picked up from his friend and fellow blues festival performer Mississippi Fred McDowell. Two songs in particular from this set encapsulate Williams' unique approach to country blues, the riveting and autobiographical "Angola Penitentiary Blues" and the beautifully poetic "You're My All Day Steady and My Midnight Dream," which, even though it makes use of stock blues lines, manages to be a deeply personal song that is every bit as haunting as it is lovely. Williams' songs are so eccentrically his that it is difficult to imagine anyone else doing them, and there is no more singular performer in the history of the country blues. Harry Oster's 1961 field recordings of Williams, Angola Prisoner's Blues, if you can find it, would be a logical place to start exploring Williams' body of work, but everything he recorded has the same insular intimacy, and this set is as good as any other in demonstrating this one of a kind bluesman's fascinating appeal.


Born: 14 March 1914 in Zachary, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s

Discovered in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Robert Pete Williams became one of the great blues discoveries during the folk boom of the early '60s. His disregard for conventional patterns, tunings, and structures kept him from a wider audience, but his music remains one of the great, intense treats of the blues. Williams was born in Zachary, Louisiana, the son of sharecropping parents. As a child, he worked the fields with his family and never attended school. Williams didn't begin playing blues...
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