Joe McCoy (May 11, 1905 – January 28, 1950) was an African American
Delta blues musician and songwriter.
McCoy played music under a variety of stage names but is best known as
'Kansas Joe McCoy'. Born in Raymond, Mississippi, he was the older brother
of the blues accompanist Papa Charlie McCoy. As a young man, McCoy was drawn
to the music scene in Memphis, Tennessee where he played guitar and sang
vocals during the 1920s. He teamed up with future wife Lizzie Douglas, a
guitarist better known as Memphis Minnie,
and their 1929 recording of the song 'Bumble Bee' on the Columbia Records
label was a hit. In 1930, the couple moved to Chicago where they were an
important part of the burgeoning blues scene. Following their divorce, McCoy
teamed up with his brother to form a band known as the Harlem Hamfats that
performed and recorded during the second half of the 1930s.
In 1936, the Harlem Hamfats released a record with the song 'The Weed
Smoker's Dream' on it. McCoy later refined the tune, changed the lyrics and
titled the new song 'Why Don't You Do Right?' for Lil Green, who recorded it
in 1941. It was covered a year later by both Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee,
becoming Lee's first hit single. 'Why Don't You Do Right?' remains a jazz
standard and is McCoy's most enduring composition.
At the outbreak of World War II Charlie McCoy entered the military, but a
heart condition kept Joe McCoy from service. Out on his own, he created a
band known as 'Big Joe and his Rhythm' that performed together throughout
most of the 1940s. The band again included his brother Charlie on mandolin
and Robert Nighthawk on harmonica. In 1950, at the age of 44, McCoy died of
heart disease in Chicago, only a few months before his brother Charlie. They
are both buried in Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant took his and Memphis Minnie's recording
of 'When the Levee Breaks,' which was in his personal collection, and
presented it to guitarist Jimmy Page, who revamped it and slightly altered
it lyrically, and help record it on Led Zeppelin's 1971 album, Led Zeppelin
In addition to those mentioned earlier, McCoy's songs have also been covered
by Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, The Ink Spots, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Ann Kelly,
Cleo Laine and A Perfect Circle.
McCoy also performed and recorded under the names Bill Wither, Georgia Pine
Boy, Hallelujah Joe, Big Joe McCoy and His Washboard Band, and The
Mississippi Mudder. Other names he used from time to time included Hillbilly
Plowboy, Mud Dauber Joe and Hamfoot Ham.
Like many blues musicians of his era, Joe McCoy's grave site is currently
unmarked. A tribute concert took place in October 2010 to celebrate the
music of Joe and his brother Charlie and to buy gravestones for each of