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Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues

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Album Review

A five-disc box set from England's JSP Records, Big Joe Williams and the Stars of Mississippi Blues collects 126 tracks by Big Joe Williams and loosely related artists like Willie Lofton, Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Petway, and Tommy McClennan. Disc one opens with a half dozen tracks from Williams (including "49 Highway Blues") with Henry Townsend on second guitar that were recorded in Chicago in February 1935, followed by four sides (including Williams' signature song, "Baby Please Don't Go") recorded the following Halloween. The disc closes out with four songs from a session in Aurora, IL, in 1937, and nine tracks recorded in March and December of 1941. The second disc collects 17 songs Williams recorded in Chicago in 1945 and 1947, followed by two sides (including "Jivin' Woman") tracked in St. Louis in 1949, and six songs from a 1951 session in Jackson, MS. Disc three and the start of disc four feature the complete recorded output of Tommy McClennan, a gruff-voiced blues shouter best known for "Cross Cut Saw Blues" and "Whiskey Head Woman" and a penchant for interjections and spoken asides during his recordings. Disc four concludes with seven tracks from Robert Petway, including his influential version of "Catfish Blues." The final disc opens with six more Petway recordings, followed by a dozen Honeyboy Edwards field recordings made for Alan Lomax in 1942, and then concludes with the eight sides Willie "Poor Boy" Lofton recorded for Decca Records in 1934 and 1935 (including his "Dark Road Blues," a version of Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues"). What holds all of this together? Countless songs that are essentially variations of "Baby Please Don't Go" and "49 Highway Blues," showing the real and pervasive influence of Williams' rough and ragged approach to Mississippi blues.


Born: 16 October 1903 in Crawford, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Big Joe Williams may have been the most cantankerous human being who ever walked the earth with guitar in hand. At the same time, he was an incredible blues musician: a gifted songwriter, a powerhouse vocalist, and an exceptionally idiosyncratic guitarist. Despite his deserved reputation as a fighter (documented in Michael Bloomfield's bizarre booklet Me and Big Joe), artists who knew him well treated him as a respected elder statesman. Even so, they may not have chosen to play with him, because...
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