Thursday, December 19, 2013

# 12 Big Joe Williams Stack O' Dollars

   If my memory is still in tune, I am fifteen when I first discover Blues as a music. Most of what I hear comes to me by way of the C.B.C. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) I don't even know what I'm listening to most of the time, I just know that I like it.

   There is no Internet and almost nothing about blues on the television, so, I hunt down recordings in the bigger record stores, and read about it in the school library. One day, I'm flipping through a compilation book of famous blues singer biographies, and I stop at a photo of Big Joe Williams. By this time I have an image in my mind of just what a blues man should look like, and Williams is that man. From my vantage point in my suburban world, I naively conclude that he has all the attributes of a real blues man: old, world weary, despondent, plays a beat up acoustic guitar, and sings about the hardships of life with intense conviction.

   Years later I discover, Williams really does fit into my old image of a stereotypical post war blues man. He's born in 1903, raised in the delta region of the United States, he plays an acoustic guitar modified with a rudimentary pickup, and he has added three extra strings to create both a unique instrument as well as a distinctive sound to support his singing. He makes some other eccentric modifications to his guitar, but you can read about them elsewhere. 

Takoma Blues   The important thing here is that Williams is not only a guitar player and singer, but also a songwriter. During the blues boom of the sixties two of his songs Baby, Please Don't Go and Crawlin' King Snake become concert, and recording standards for artists like Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and of course Paul Butterfield. His song, BabyPlease Don't Go has been recorded by at least thirty six rock artists, and is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll.

   The other interesting thing about Williams is that during the early sixties he is living in Chicago, and is befriended by the folk coterie in that city. Mike Bloomfield knows him, and often hires him to play at his coffee house The Fickle Pickle. Butterfield Charlie Mussellwhite and Elvin Bishop, know Williams too, as do most of the other young white musicians involved in the local white blues scene.

    As I discussed in #2, Rare Chicago Blues, Norman Dayron is a part of the coterie, and records many of the local artists, Big Joe Williams among them. A second set of these sessions are released on either Chicago Break Down or Takoma Blues, depending on your choice. They are from the same period, and probably from the same source released in 1980 on Takoma label

  There is one track with Williams singing  Stack O' Dollars with Paul Butterfield playing harp, and Elvin Bishop on second guitar. As well, there are a couple of tracks I have highlighted below which either have Butterfield in a supporting role or I think he might be there??

   While Rare Chicago Blues is a product of several recording locations, apparently this particular track is from old film studio. I bet it is just part of the Rare Chicago Blues selections, but was held back for marketing purposes. Personally, I don't think much of this version of Stack O' Dollars, it's a little too rough for my tastes. However, at fifteen I would have done almost anything to be a part of these sessions.

Side One
1) Hesitatin' Blues - Little Brother Montgomery
2) Minglewood Town - John Lee Granderson
3) Chicago Breakdown - Dr. Isaiah Ross
4) I Feel Worried - Big Joe Williams
5) V8 Ford Blues - James Cotton (supported by Butterfield)
6) Cryin' Won't Make Me Stay - Maxwell Street Jimmy

Side Two
1) Michigan Water Blues - Little Brother Montgomery
2) Good Morning Little School Girl - John Lee Granderson
3) Hobo Blues - Dr. Isaiah Ross
4) Stack O' Dollars - Big Joe Williams
5) Polly Put The Kettle On - James Cotton (possibly Butterfield on the bass harmonica)
6) Five Long Years -Eddie Boyd

About the video:  This is NOT the version with Butterfield playing harmonica, but I thought you might like to at least hear Big Joe Williams.

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