Big Joe Williams was an archetype rambling bluesman, who started playing in Mississippi levee and logging camps in the 30's, had several hit recordings (solo and with Sonny Boy Williamson I) and wound up on European concert stages in the 60's. As the folk/blues boom wound down, Joe headed back to his native town of Crawford, but he kept his hand in, continuing to act as talent scout/producer for small record companies. He frequently recorded in company with his downhome kinsmen: see BACK TO THE COUNTRY, Testament 5013 as well as STAVIN' CHAIN BLUES, a late 50's session shared with J D Short. In later years, Joe was generous in backing neighborhood singers in front of recording mikes.
In the early 70's, ill health sort of forced retirement on Joe but he kept up a correspondence with one of the first men to cut an LP on him, Chris Strachwitz at Arhoolie Records. Joe suggested doing recordings of several singers he knew, he'd back them up. When Strachwitz expressed interest Joe took a couple of buddies into a Starkville MS radio station and cut a demo tape--six tracks are tacked on the end of the program here, though technically the tapes are a bit lacking. A couple of months later, in May 1971, on a recording swing through the south, Strachwitz
stopped off to try re-recording Joe and his proteges, and this 26 track CD is the result.
The set begins with several by Joe (he does 8 in total), "Back Home Blues" sets the scene with it's lines about "going back home--I decided to settle down". There's a fine remake of his thirties hit "Baby Please Don't Go" with Joe adding some bottleneck flourishes. Joe's health issues are displayed in an affecting "Sugar Diabetes Blues". Joe is accompanied by Austen Pete on guitar on many of his tracks, Pete also takes vocal lead on three tunes. He plays rudimentary slide guitar on "Run Here Jailer", and "I'm Wild About My Jelly Roll," singing in a high-lonesome voice.
Joes cousin, Shortstuff Macon, is heard on 9 tracks, along with his "rattling" guitar, which buzzes due to noisy pickups. Macon's numbers include versions of Charlie Pattons "Bird Nest", Little Walter's "My Babe" and "Corina." He favors the hypo-riff kind of guitar patterns most often associated with Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside, using rhythmic repetitions for kinetic effect. See his "Good Times Here."
Amelia Jackson's 4 tracks held up release of this album for 28 years--her lawyer contacted Strachwitz, she had second thoughts after recording. It wasn't worth the wait to hear her, she's not much more than adequate vocally, and her lyrics consist of little more than the title phrases, repeated incessantly for a long 3 minutes each. However Joe does some particularly nice backup guitar work behind her, so it's not a total waste. Glover Connor is also backed by Joe's 9 string guitar--his vocals are high and clear on another leaving song, "Been In Crawford Too Long."
Overall, 75 minutes of some very basic down-home blues with a lot of Big Joe's distinctive open-G tuned 9 string providing the driving wheel. This is a snapshot from a couple decades ago, it weathers well.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.