Homesick James: Got to Move
Homesick James was well past his 80th birthday when he recorded Got To Move in 1994. The CD features robust electric numbers and down-to-earth acoustic tunes. The latter hark back to Homesick’s early ramblin’ days, while the former reflect his experiences with one of Chicago’s greatest blues bands, Elmore James and the Broomdusters.
James’ lyrics are hard to decipher on this release, but his garbled singing actually serves as a nice complement to his rough-hewn slide work. James sounds like a resilient old-timer who’s been everywhere and seen everything, but who hasn’t lost his passion or his knack. He executes some superlative picking throughout this recording.
Got to Move would serve as a good title for Homesick James’ life story. Born in Somerville, Tenn., the bluesman’s exact date of birth remains a mystery, as does his real name. By most accounts Homesick came into the world in 1910 as James Williamson. For reasons unknown, Homesick always used the name "William Henderson" as his songwriting handle. He acquired his nickname from the song "Homesick" he recorded in the early ‘50s.
After a neighbor taught James to play slide guitar with a pocketknife, he ran away from Somerville at age 10 and became a blues hobo. James eked out a living playing picnics and country suppers across North Carolina and Mississippi until his mid-'20s, when he decided to see Chicago. He ended up basing himself in the Windy City, working both as a leader and a sideman (to alleged cousin Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson I, among others). Though Chicago became his home, Homesick often hit the road when the mood struck.
On Got to Move, James is backed by a solid band that includes guitarist Ron Thompson (John Lee Hooker, Mick Fleetwood). The album offers fast boogie tunes ("Can’t Afford to Do It," "Hawaiian Boogie") and slow electric numbers ("Welfare Girl," "Tennessee Woman") alongside more traditional fare ("Mr. Pawnshop Man," "Highway 51"). This is raw Chicago blues with its roots showing, and a solid release from an unsung master of the slide guitar.