Johnny Williams

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Johnny Williams (May 15, 1906 - March 6, 2006) was an American Chicago-based blues guitar player and singer, who was one of the first of the new generation of electric blues players to record after World War II.
Johnny Williams
Early life and career

Williams was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, United States, to parents who were both musicians. He was raised in Houston, Texas, and moved to Belzoni, Mississippi to live with his uncle Anthony Williams after his mother died around 1917. There he met local musicians such as the Chatmon brothers and Charley Patton (with whom his uncle played), and learned to play the guitar. After traveling North during the 1920s, he returned to Belzoni around 1930, where he occasionally played locally. Moving to Chicago in 1938, he worked at first in the defense industry and later for Oscar Meyer. By 1943 he was playing in clubs in the evenings while working as a meat packer in the daytime, working with Theodore 'Hound Dog' Taylor around 1944. In 1944 he lost the end of a finger in a meat grinder and gave up playing the guitar for a year, until he saw Blind Arvella Gray, who was missing two fingers from his left hand, playing on Maxwell Street, and learned to play the guitar without the missing finger. In the late 1940s Williams was once more playing on Maxwell Street and in clubs, often working with his cousin the mandolin player Johnny Young or with harmonica player Snooky Pryor and guitarists Floyd Jones and Moody Jones, and with Little Walter, and had joined the Musicians' Union. Around this time, he acquired the nickname 'Uncle Johnny', by which he was known among his blues associates for the rest of his life.

Recordings

Williams's first recordings were made in 1947 with Johnny Young and resulted in one of the two singles issued on the Ora-Nelle label. On one side of the record Young sang 'Money Taking Woman' accompanied by Williams, while the other side featured Williams singing 'Worried Man Blues'. In December 1948 Young and Williams were joined by Snooky Pryor to record a single for the Planet label.

Williams continued to work in music into the 1950s, eventually joining Big Boy Spires's Rocket Four, with whom he had his final recording session for Chance Records in 1953. The session resulted in a single released under Spires's name, but the two tracks on which Williams sang were unreleased until the 1970s.

Later career and death

After 1953 Williams continued to work with Hound Dog Taylor and others, but stopped playing blues in 1959 after a religious conversion, and joined the Baptist church, becoming an ordained minister in the early 1960s.

At 99 years old, Williams was interviewed for the documentary film, Cheat You Fair: The Story of Maxwell Street, where he is featured extensively. 'Uncle Johnny gave us his last interview just a few months before he died', says the film's director, Phil Ranstrom. 'He gives the most beautiful and poetic definition of the blues I've ever heard and it brings tears to people's eyes whenever they hear it. He is the real deal, the last of a generation of wandering blues artist who did it because they really felt it.'

Williams died in Chicago on March 6, 2006, at the age of 99.

Blues musicians John Lee Hooker and Baby Boy Warren have also used the name Johnny Williams.


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