Big Joe played a 9-string guitar which he pounded, slapped and drove like a demented downhill slalom through a thicket of seminal Delta blues, singing in a gutsy, raw, emotion- exhausting voice. Many of his songs were loosely constructed around the beaten chassis of a familiar Mississippi tune or riff, but in his hands they were totally personal, often topical masterpieces.” - Ian Anderson - Folk Roots
Born in Mississippi as one of 16 children, Williams learned to play guitar at five on a homemade instrument. By the time he was 12, he left home to hobo around Mississippi, playing and singing music wherever he could. That set the pattern for his life and he fit the romantic vision of a wandering bluesman.
Williams worked in Doc Bennett’s Medicine Show, toured with the Birmingham Jug Band as part of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels tent show during 1922-1924, and performed throughout the South. His early associates included Little Brother Montgomery and St. Louis Jimmy. Williams recorded with the Birmingham Jug Band in 1930 and started to record as a leader in 1935. The artistic success of his recordings did not change his lifestyle much and Williams remained a constant traveler, spending time in St. Louis (his group in 1941 included Muddy Waters), back in Mississippi, Chicago, and many points in between.
As time passed, his jobs were on a higher level and his traveling evolved from hoboing on trains to taking planes to Europe, but he never watered down his passionate music. His song “Baby Please Don’t Go,” has been covered by every major blues artist over the past forty years and is a certified blues standard.
Big Joe Williams kept very busy until a short time before his 1982 death.