Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Big John Wrencher (February 12, 1923 - July 15, 1977), also known as One Arm John, was a blues harmonica player and singer well known for playing on Maxwell Street Market, Chicago in the 1960s, and who later toured Europe in the 1970s.
John Thomas Wrencher was born in Sunflower, Mississippi on February 12, 1923. He became interested in music as a child, and taught himself to play harmonica at an early age, and from the early 1940s was working as an itinerant musician in Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois. By the mid 1940s he had arrived in Chicago and was playing on Maxwell Street and at house parties with Jimmy Rogers, Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith and John Henry Barbee. In the 1950s he moved to Detroit, where he worked with singer/guitarist Baby Boy Warren, and formed his own trio to work in the Detroit and Clarksdale, Mississippi areas.
In 1958 Wrencher lost his left arm as a result of a car accident outside Memphis, Tennessee. By the early 1960s he had settled in Chicago, where he became a fixture on Maxwell Street Market, in particular playing from 10am to 3pm on Sundays. In 1964 he appeared in a documentary film about Maxwell Street, titled And This Is Free; music recorded in the process of making the film was eventually issued on the three CD set And This Is Maxwell Street. During the 1960s he recorded for the Testament label backing Robert Nighthawk, and as part of the Chicago String Band. In 1969 he recorded for Barrelhouse Records, backed by guitarist Little Buddy Thomas and drummer Playboy Vinson, who formed his Maxwell Street band of the time. The resulting album, Maxwell Street Alley Blues, was described as "superlative in every regard" by Cub Koda at Allmusic.
Wrencher toured Europe with the Chicago Blues Festival in 1973 and with the American Blues Legends in 1974, and during the latter tour recorded an album in London for the Big Bear label, backed by guitarist Eddie Taylor and his band.
During a trip to Mississippi to visit his family in July 1977, Wrencher died suddenly of a heart attack in Wade Walton's barber shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi.