B.B. King left a legacy as America’s Musical Goodwill Ambassador to the world: There’s going to be a killer blues session in heaven tonight


In the wake of B.B. King’s death, the mass media has focused on his legacy as the “King of the Blues,” which was earned through hard work, song writing, distinctive singing, lyrical guitar playing style and a unique ability to blend the blues with other musical styles. However, King’s most significant legacy was his struggle against hardship and poverty to become America’s musical goodwill ambassador to the world.

Blues legend B.B. King performs at the 2011 National Memorial Day Concert at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 29, 2011.

Blues legend B.B. King performs at the 2011 National Memorial Day Concert at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 29, 2011.

“B.B. King was born a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi, came of age in Memphis, Tennessee, and became the ambassador who brought his all-American music to his country and the world,” said President Barak Obama in a statement on April 15. “No one worked harder than B.B. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues. There’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.”

B.B. King died at the age of 89, while sleeping at his home in Las Vegas at about 9:40 p.m. on April 14, 2015. King continued to work until recent health problems surfaced on Oct 3, 2014. He did not feel well enough to finish his performance, at the House of Blues in Chicago. A doctor found King was dehydrated and exhausted. King cancelled the eight remaining shows of his 2014 tour, which had 70 scheduled dates. He lived with type 2 diabetes for about 30 years ago and died from a series of mini strokes. King was also hospitalized in March due to dehydration and exhaustion.

This was not the first time President Obama has honoured B.B. King for his legacy of overcoming adversity and representing America around the world. King was invited to the White House in February 2012 to perform at a concert called Red, White and Blues, which celebrated blues music and Black History Month. Buddy Guy coaxed Obama to sing a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago”, while Mick Jagger gave him the microphone. This video shows Obama singing a short duet with B.B. King.

King’s first trip to the White House came during George Bush’s 1989 inauguration. The newly-elected president joined him onstage, playing a white Fender guitar. Under the Clinton administration, King was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors during a ceremony at the White House. In 2001, Clinton joined King onstage playing the saxophone at an event in Beverly Hills. George W. Bush pays tribute to the legacy of King in the following video. King is being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in December 2006. The medal is the highest civilian honor the U.S. government offers.

King achieved international fame over a six and a half decade career, but his commercial breakthrough occurred in 1968 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. When King arrived, he called his road manager to say, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” King was confused, because he saw “longhaired white people” lining up outside. Promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd of enthusiastic, appreciative, younger, new fans. Everybody stood up out of respect. This was the first time King got a standing ovation before playing. He was overwhelmed and broke into tears of joy.

Poster of B.B. Kings first concert at the Fillmore in San Fransisco in 1969. Photo Credit - Smithsonian Institute

Poster of B.B. Kings first concert at the Fillmore in San Fransisco in 1969. Photo Credit – Smithsonian Institute

This was a turning point in his B.B. King’s career, because blues had been falling out of favour with African-American audiences, since the late 1950’s. The performance at the Fillmore marks a watershed in the expansion of King’s audience worldwide, and he toured the world for next 47 years. Charles Sawyer, the author of B.B. King’s 1980 biography “The Arrival of B.B. King,” said King performed 100 nights a year well into his 80s and has done about 18,000 concerts in 90 countries. This means he played more than 300 shows a year for three decades.

Sawyer observed in 1995 that King had taken over the position of America’s unofficial musical ambassador of good will from Louis Armstrong, who left the post vacant after his death in 1971. Armstrong brought ensemble jazz from the saloon to the silver screen and onto the diplomatic circuit where it became a symbol of America in the 20th century. Armstrong and King both shifted the cultural center of gravity of the world by their contributions to American music.

Several other significant events set the stage for King’s role as a musical ambassador. In 1969, King opened for the Rolling Stones on 18 of their American concerts and he appeared on The Tonight Show. After the Rolling Stones featured King, he released “The Thrill is Gone” in late 1969. King performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1970, giving him exposure to 50 million viewers. Finally, in 1970, “The Thrill Is Gone,” reached #3 on the R&B charts and #15 on the pop charts. The song was King’s first crossover hit, which also earned him the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

King played “The Thrill Is Gone” during a concert in Kinshasa, Zaire, as part of the build up to the world heavyweight fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974. King gave one of the most thrilling performances of his life before a crowd of 80,000 people. He was accompanied by James Brown and other African-American artists, who reveled in their return to the motherland.

bb-king 3oclock

The rise to fame for King began with the recording of “Three O’Clock Blues,” which entered Billboard magazine’s Rhythm and Blues charts in December 1951 .The song spent 17 weeks on the charts, including five weeks at number one and was one of the top-selling R&B records of 1952. “3 O’Clock Blues” launched King’s career and provided his first opportunity to gain a national audience. The song was first recorded by Lowell Fulson in 1946 and was released in 1948. It was Fulson’s first hit.

King had a major breakthrough in 1949, when he cut his first four tracks for Jim Bulleit’s Bullet Records and signed a contract with the Bihari Brothers’ RPM Records. The Biharis recorded “Three ‘Clock Blues in 1951. The first big break for King came in 1948, in Memphis, when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio show on WDIA. As a result, King got a steady engagement at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and a 10-minute spot on WDIA. King was known as the Beale Street Blues Boy, but as his popularity on WDIA increased, he shortened the name to “Blues Boy King” and B.B. King.

King married his first wife, Martha Denton on Nov. 11, 1944 in his hometown of Indianola. He hitchhiked to Memphis the first time in May, 1946, after wrecking his boss’s tractor. Once in Memphis, King found his cousin Bukka White, who was a country blues guitarist. White taught King the finer points of playing blues guitar for ten months. After returning home to be with his wife Martha, King returned to Memphis in late 1948.

B.B. King in 1971. Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commoms

B.B. King in 1971. Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commoms

Riley B. King was born on Sept. 16, 1925, to Albert and Nora Ella King, in Berclair, Miss., a hamlet outside the small town of Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta. Albert and Nora Ella King were hardworking sharecropping farmers, who had lived in Mississippi all their lives. Nora left her husband Albert for another man when Riley was 4 years old, but she died five years later. Riley was raised by his maternal grandmother Elnora.

Riley went to Elkhorn School, which was right across the road from and affiliated with the Elkhorn Baptist Church. Nora and Elnora were very religious and Nora sang in the choir. The minister of the church, Archie Fair, taught Riley how to play the guitar and he became an important part of choir.

Young King began listening to the music at his Great Aunt Mima’s house, where he heard the music of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson on records. King dropped out of school in tenth grade and earned a living picking cotton. In his youth, King played on street corners for change and earned more in one night singing than he did in one week working in the cotton field.

BB King' marries Sue Hall in June 1958. Photo Credit - Smithsonian

BB King’ marries Sue Hall in June 1958. Photo Credit – Smithsonian

When “Three O’Clock Blues” became a hit in 1952, King divorced Martha, after eight years of marriage. One of the reasons Martha divorced King was because he was performing an average of 275 one night stands every year, all over the country. King was a major star when he married his second wife, Sue Hall, on June 4, 1958. He was divorced a second time in 1966.

King did not have any children with his wives, but he fathered 15 children with 15 different women. He is survived by 11 children. Three of them had recently petitioned to take over his affairs, asserting that King’s manager, Laverne Toney, was taking advantage of him. A Las Vegas judge rejected their petition in May, 2015.


Father of Modern Chicago Blues: Willie Dixon wrote hundreds of songs that shaped post-World War II Blues and Rock and Roll


Willie Dixon’s contribution to blues music is unparalleled, which is why he has earned the legacy of being recognized as the “Father of the Modern Chicago Blues” through hard work, talent, passion, toughness, generousity and outright tenacity.

Willie Dixon at Monterey Jazz Festival, 1981: Wikimedia Commons

Willie Dixon at Monterey Jazz Festival, 1981: Wikimedia Commons

Dixon’s most enduring contribution to the blues begins with his work for Chess Records and its subsidiary Checker Records in Chicago between 1948 and the early 1960’s. He started as a recording artist, but quickly became a full-time employee in 1951 and focused on his role as a producer, talent scout, session musician and staff songwriter.

Dixon’s talent as a songwriter was fully appreciated with the release of Muddy Waters’ recording of “Hoochie Coochie Man” in 1954. The video below is a version of the song played in 1960 at the Newport Jazz Festival. Dixon established himself as Chess Records’ most reliable songwriter with “Evil” by Howlin’ Wolf, and “My Babe” by Little Walter.

Dixon played an important role in linking the blues and rock and roll, by working with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley in the late 1950s. Dixon’ made a major contribution to the British Invasion of American in mid-1960’s. The Rolling Stones reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart with their cover version of Dixon’s song “Little Red Rooster” in 1964. Led Zeppelin’s first album included Dixon’s “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, while cream played “Spoonful” and other Dixon songs. As a result, the blues boom in England was based on many songs that had been written by Dixon.

During the mid-’60s, Dixon organized the musical side of the American Folk-Blues Festival, which involved taking the top blues talent in America on a yearly tour of the European continent.  In the following video Dixon shows his mastery of the bass on a song called “Bassology”, as part of a European tour.

By the late 1950’s, Dixon started to develop his own recording career, which was put on hold when he started to work at Chess Records. His first album, Willie’s Blues, was recorded with Memphis Slim in 1959. He then recorded a series of albums in a duet format with Memphis Slim on the Folkways, Verve and Battles labels.

From the late 1960s until the middle 1970s, Dixon ran his own record label, Yambo Records. In 1970, Dixon released a number of his best known songs on his first solo album, I Am the Blues on Columbia Records. The next video is a version of “I am the Blues” sung by Dixon at the New Generation of Chicago Blues concert in Berlin in 1977.

Dixon’s health started to deteriorate in the seventies and the eighties from diabetes and he had one of his legs amputated. He had bypass surgery in 1987. But, in 1988, he released of Hidden Charms, which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording. Dixon died at the age of seventy-six of heart failure at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California on Jan. 29, 1992. He was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. In the following video, Dixon is posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “early influences” (pre-rock) category in 1994.

However, before Dixon died, his mission was to promote the legacy of the blues. He developed a strategic plan and founded a non-profit organization in 1987 called the Blues Heaven Foundation. The organization is designed to protect artists’ copy rights and royalties, as well as promote the blues through scholarships and educational programs.

Willie and Marie Dixon: Blues Heaven Foundation

Willie and Marie Dixon: Blues Heaven Foundation

Marie Dixon, the widow of Willie Dixon, moved operations of the foundation to the Chess Studios Building in Chicago in 1997. She bought the building and saved it from demolition. Dixon and his grandson, Alex Dixon, were inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame on April 28, 2013. Alex works at the Blues Heaven Foundation.

Blues Heaven Foundation in old Chess Records Building

Blues Heaven Foundation in old Chess Records Building

Willie Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 1, 1915. His mother Daisy often rhymed the things she said, a habit Willie imitated. Dixon’s father sang blues in the field when he was working. As a teenager, Willie learned to sing harmony from local carpenter Leo Phelp and sang bass in his gospel quartet. Dixon began to adapt the poems he was writing into songs, and even sold some to local music groups.

While travelling to Chicago on the rails in 1936, Dixon was arrested for hoboing and sent to a work camp. When Dixon arrived in Chiacgo, he pursued boxing career. At 6 feet six inches tall and 250 lbs, he won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship (Novice Division) in 1937 and turned professional. Dixon’s boxing career ended after four fights, when he was cheated out of money and suspended for brawling with his managers in the boxing commissioner’s office. However, at the gym Dixon met Leonard Caston, who encouraged him to pursue a music career.

Caston and Dixon were founding members in 1939 of a group named the Five Breezes, which blended blues, jazz, and vocal harmonies. The start of World War II interrupted Dixon’s progress on the upright bass, when he was arrested for ignoring his draft papers. He was put in prison for ten months as a conscientious objector. Dixon spent a year in prison and after being released he formed a group named the Four Jumps of Jive. He then reunited with Caston and formed the Big Three Trio. The group went on to record for Columbia Records.

Big Thre Trio

Big Three Trio

In summary, Dixon’s main contributions to the development of blues are being: a master bass player, guitarist and vocalist; a prolific song writer, talent scout, producer and record company executive; and the most influential person in shaping post-World War II Chicago blues, as well as Rock and Roll.


The Blues Soul of “Billy Boy” Arnold: One of the last living Chicago Blues harmonica legends releases new album


Billy Boy Arnold, who is one of the last living Chicago Blues harmonica legends, released a new CD entitled “The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold” on Oct. 21.

Billy Boy Arnold-Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Billy Boy Arnold-Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Billy Boy Arnold’s talent as a songwriter, singer, harp master and blues historian is still in full swing here,” said Duke Robillard in a press release. “On this album, he demonstrates his flair and love for many different facets of the blues. This recording is surely a remarkable achievement.”

The CD, which showcases Billy Boy’s talent as a songwriter, singer and harmonica player, was released on Edmonton-based Stony Plain Records and produced by Duke Robillard.

“I would like to thank Duke for his outstanding guitar performances and all the great musicians that made this project a success,” said Arnold.

This new CD emphasizes the soulful side of the Chicago blues that has always been a part of Arnold’s repertoire. It includes 14 songs that Arnold has always loved, in a few different genres. These songs include some Billy Boy originals, early R&B songs, blues/jazz standards and some songs from the 60’s and 70’s.

Arnold’s style is a combination of Delta-influenced blues and a more sophisticated urban sound. This style can be heard in the following song from the new album called “Worried Dream”, which is a B.B. King composition.

William “Billy Boy” Arnold was born in Chicago on Sept.  16, 1935 and began playing harmonica as a child. Arnold received informal lessons in 1948 from his near neighbour John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, shortly before his death. One afternoon Arnold and his childhood friends knocked on Sonny Boy’s door and were invited in the house. Williamson played for the boys.  Shortly after his third visit, Williamson met his untimely death in a robbery and assault. The encounter made Arnold determined to be a blues musician.

Arnold made his first recording in 1952 with “Hello Stranger” on the small Cool label, which is the record company that gave him the nickname “Billy Boy”. Initially, Arnold didn’t like the nickname, because he was 17, looked 15 and told people he was 19. Arnold looked like a teenager, but didn’t want to be known as a boy. He wanted to be recognized as a young man.

In the early 1950’s Billy Boy teamed up with a young street musician and electronics buff named Ellis McDaniel (Bo Diddley), who built an amplifier for Billy Boy out of an orange crate. Billy Boy played harmonica on Diddley’s first big hit “I’m a Man”, which was recorded by Checker (Chess) Records on March 2, 1955.

Arnold signed a solo recording contract in 1955 with Vee-Jay Records, recording the originals of “I Ain’t Got You” and “I Wish You Would”, which was the first blues session to feature an electric bass. The song quickly became a regional hit and local radio airplay for his song was heavy. Arnold began to play across the South Side of Chicago with stars like Little Walter and Junior Wells.

In the late 1950s, Arnold continued to play in Chicago clubs and record 45s. Arnold recorded his debut album entitled “More Blues From The South Side” on the Prestige label in 1963. On this album Arnold is backed by guitarist Mighty Joe Young and pianist Lafayette Leake. However, as playing opportunities began to dry up and the demands of raising a family increased, Arnold pursued a parallel career as a Chicago bus driver, truant officer and a parole officer for the State of Illinois. The following instrumental, “Playing with the Blues” was not released until the album was reissued on CD.

The first generation of British blues bands were influenced in the middle of the 1960s by Arnold’s early songs on VeeJay records. As a result, Billy Boy began to tour and record in Europe during the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s. Arnold enjoyed the greatest success of his career, with the release of “Back Where I Belong” on Alligator Records in 1993.  The popularity of the album brought Arnold back into the public eye and provided opportunities for him play at major festivals in the U.S. and Europe.

Arnold released his next album “Eldorado Cadillac” on Oct 31, 1995 on the Alligator label, which was followed by his first album on Stony Plain Records Band Boogie ’n’ Shuffle (2001), which was also produced with Duke Robillard. He released “Blue and Lonesome” featuring Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs in 2012. Arnold was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame at a ceremony on May 9, 2012 in Memphis. He was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the ‘Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year’ category in 2014.

“El Mo” rocks on: New investor saves Toronto’s legendary music venue from closure


A new investor is buying the most important night club in Toronto’s history, El Mocambo, so the venue will not be closing its doors for good after a benefit show tonight.

“El Mocambo to be bought by Michael Wekerle of Dragons’ Den,” said Michael Wekerle on Twitter at about 11:45 am this morning. “YES it’s true.”

Micheal Wekerle: Photo Credit BNN

Micheal Wekerle: Photo Credit BNN

Wekerle, who is a co-founder and CEO of merchant bank Difference Capital and a new panelist on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, confirmed on Twitter on Dec 6. that he was saving the music venue. A press conference was held at the El Mocambo at 5:30 pm. After the event Wekerle continued to Tweet.

“I will be making a major announcement tonight at 9pm at @ElMocamboTavern!  See you all there!, he said. “No shortage of press on the purchase of the El Macombo! The iconic landmark has been saved! Thank you to everyone for the amazing responses & comments on the purchase of the @El Mocambo Tavern! Looking forward to seeing everyone there!”

Wekerle put a deposit down this morning to buy the El Mocambo. The deposit has been accepted and the sale is scheduled to close by middle of January 2015. As a condition of the sale El Mocambo must be kept as a music venue.

Tonight, the El Mocambo is hosting Light of Day, a Parkinson’s disease benefit concert, which features John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, the Pat Travers Band, Wally Palmer of the Romantics and other classic-rock acts.It was assumed the venue was closing down for good, at least temporarily, after the show. Instead, the concert will feature Wekerle being handed the keys to the building on stage.

The iconic El Mocambo neon palm tree sign was put up for sale on eBay on Oct. 21. The sign has served as a beacon for entertainment in Toronto for more than six decades.

“Is it just me or does WEK fit nicely in the sign?” said Wekerle. “A little El WEKambo??

Wekerle, who has been described as a cross between Mick Jagger and Warren Buffett, will take the El Mocambo stage to play with his band in celebration,

The El Mocambo is probably best known for the surprise show by The Rolling Stones, who performed upstairs for two nights in March 1977. The Stones billed themselves anonymously as “the Cockroaches,” but word leaked out and massive crowds turned up. The show was recorded and released as one side on a double album called “Love You Live”.

For a time, blues performers such as Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Lightening Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Big Walter Horton were favourite attractions.

The El Mocambo has changed owners an estimated 10 times. Most recently, it was purchased by Mr. Grosso and Marco Petrucci for $2.95-million in 2012. Financial difficulties forced them to put the property back on the market in early 2014. The El Mocambo was put up for sale in March for $3.95 million.

Who is Henry Sloan? and was he the real “Father of the Delta Blues”?


One of the earliest figures in Delta Blues history is Henry Sloan, an African-American musician who lived on the Dockery Plantation near Indianola, Mississippi. Sloan could be the real “Father of the Delta Blues,” because he was an original innovator of this style and taught Charley Patton and many others to play.

Henry Sloan would entertain workers on the Dockery plantation and local Juke Joints

Henry Sloan would entertain workers on the Dockery plantation and local Juke Joints

Researcher David Evans said Sloan was born in Mississippi in 1870 and by 1900 was living in the same community as Patton near Bolton, Mississippi. Sloan moved to the Dockery Plantation near Indianola, between 1901 and 1904. This is the same time as the Patton family moved there.

Very little is known about Sloan or his life. What is known is that he taught Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, Son House and many others. Most of Sloan’s music students recognize him as the originator of what became the Delta blues style.

In a previous blog I wrote that W.C. Handy said the essence of blues music was revealed to him in 1903, when he was working as a band leader in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He was passing through the little town of Tutwiler and ran into an itinerant street guitarist at the train station.

“A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages,” said Handy in his 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues. “As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of a guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I ever heard.”

It’s quite possible that Sloan was the musician W.C. Handy heard playing guitar at the train station near Dockery Farms in 1903. The song referred to the crossing of the Southern and Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroads in Moorhead, forty-two miles to the south. The railway was nicknamed the “Dog,” or “Yellow Dog.” Handy composed his “Yellow Dog Rag” in 1914 which later became “The Yellow Dog Blues”.

Sloan was a labourer who worked part time as musician. He was probably at least twenty years older than Patton. Sloan taught Patton and they played together for a while until Patton became so popular that he went on the road to perform for a wider audience.

Several musicians, including Tommy Johnson, said some of Patton’s songs such as “Pony Blues” were Sloan’s songs. Patton played these songs with very few changes.

Some reports indicate that Sloan also left the plantation, possibly moving to Chicago, although this cannot be confirmed and there were no further reports of what happened to him.

Evans research found that Census records suggested Sloan and his family were living around West Memphis, Arkansas in 1920. He may have been the Henry Sloan whose death, aged 78, occurred in Crittenden County on March 13, 1948.

Charlie Patton Father of the Delta Blues: One of the most important American musicians in the Twentieth Century


Charley Patton, also known as Charlie Patton, was the first and finest blues musician to emerge from the Mississippi Delta region. Patton influenced many blues musicians from the Delta, including Howlin’ Wolf, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams and David “Honeyboy” Edwards. The Delta Blues eventually branched into Memphis Blues, Chicago Blues and rock music. As the “Father of the Delta Blues”, Patton is one the most important American musicians in the twentieth century.

Father of the Blues Charlie Patton

Father of the Blues Charlie Patton

Patton was not the first Delta blues musician to make a record, but he earned a reputation by creating a large body of music and inspiring his fellow musicians. He made his first recording in June 1929 and cut fourteen songs for the Paramount label.

Pattons’s first and biggest hit was “Pony Blues,” which showcases Patton’s characteristic trademarks: powerful vocals, heavily accented guitar rhythms and unusual vocal phrasing. The song was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2006. The board selects songs in an annual basis that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The initial session was so successful that Patton was invited four months later to Paramount’s new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, where he recorded twenty-eight additional tunes. However, the original plates used to produce these records did not survive when paramount went out of business. The sound of these recordings are poor quality, because they are made from played out records. Many of Patton’s recordings have been lost forever.

Another interesting recording by Patton is “Down the Dirt Road,” which showcases the rhythmic complexity of his music. Patton sings one rhythm, taps another on the top his guitar, and plays a third on the strings. He was truly a master musician who played slide guitar either on his lap like a Hawaiian guitar and fretted with a pocket knife, or in a conventional manner with a brass pipe for a bottleneck. He also popped his bass strings like modern funk bass players.

Born in Hinds County, Mississippi in 1891, Charley was one the son of sharecroppers Bill and Annie Patton. His family of seven moved 100 miles north to the Will Dockery Plantation near Ruleville, Mississippi in 1900. The plantation supported more than 2,000 workers, who were paid in the plantation’s own coins. As well as a railroad terminal, it had its own general store, post office, school, doctor, and churches. The workers’ quarters included boardinghouses, where they lived, socialized and played music. The plantation became a hub for informal musical entertainment, because of its central location in relation to Sunflower County’s black population of some 35,000 in 1920.

DockerFarms2005 (3)

Henry Sloan gave Patton guitar lessons on the plantation. Sloan had a new, unusual style of playing music which is considered to be very early blues. Never working much on the farm, Patton decided to pursue a life in music. By the time Patton was about 19, he had become an accomplished performer and songwriter. Patton showmanship made him a popular performer in the region among both whites and blacks. He often played with the guitar down on his knees, behind his head, or behind his back.

Although Patton was a small man at about 5 foot 5 and 130 pounds his gravelly voice could be heard over long distances without amplification. Patton played scheduled engagements at plantations and taverns. He played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Only half of his fifty-seven records can be considered blues. The others are a mix of gospel and religious music, ballads and ragtime. He lived a hard-drinking rough and tumble life, marrying several times, and had many affairs.

Patton settled in Holly Ridge, Mississippi with his common-law wife and recording partner Bertha Lee in 1933. Patton’s last recording session was in New York City in February 1934. He died two months later of heart failure on April 28, 1934. A memorial headstone was erected on Patton’s grave at Holly Ridge in July 1990 and paid for by musician John Fogerty through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund.

Charlie Patton Grave 2

The Delta Blues was created by African-American musicians who lived and worked on the plantations in north Mississippi. The music evolved from church songs, prison songs, African rhythms, and early American folk traditions.  It incorporates complex vocal rhythms and syncopation and is spoken, sung, and “hollered.” Songs were about life, love and the hardships of being black in the early twentieth century in the Southern United States.

Calgary blues musician comes to Ontario in November: Tim Williams wins title of best guitar player in the World


Calgary-based musician Tim Williams is making a rare Ontario appearance in November to perform four shows, after being selected the world’s best guitar player and best solo/duo act at an international competition in Memphis, Tennessee earlier this year.

Tim Williams

“This is not your usual battle-of-the-bands horse shit where a bunch of people play for free and club owners line their pockets with beer sales…this is the premier gathering of blues talent on the planet, sponsored by The Blues Foundation,” said Williams in a blog on his website. “I was in the solo/duo category, along with 101 other competitors from Canada, the US, Spain, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Australia and the UK.”

The 30th International Blues Challenge (IBC), which is the world’s largest gathering of blues acts, was held in January 2014 in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The five-day event in the Beale Street Historic District showcased a record 255 acts from 40 states and 16 countries. They competed in front of a panel of judges to be the best band or solo/duo act in the world.

As Williams progressed through each round of the competition, he met with old friends from various blues societies, enjoyed the local food and listened to a lot of great music. However, by the final day things start to get tense, when his cell doesn’t receive the e-mail detailing finalist orientation.

Williams hustles to the theatre and apologizes profusely, finds out when he plays, and then waits back stage for what seems like an eternity.

“I walk out to play my 20-minute set in the beautiful old Orpheum Theatre. I can’t even let myself think about all the greats who’ve stood on that stage,” said Williams in the blog. “Three acts later, it’s over and I hear my name being called. I’ve won Best Solo/Duo and Best Guitarist (Solo/Duo). Holy Shit.”

Williams won a preliminary competition held by the Calgary Blues Music Association, in order to be eligible to represent them in the semi-finals in Memphis. The Calgary Blues Society is an affiliate of the Blues Foundation.

Since winning this competition, Williams’ life has been very hectic. He returned home to Calgary in a small flurry of media attention and was given a Lifetime Achievement/Hall of Fame award by the Calgary Blues Music Association.

Williams continues to play his regular gigs in Calgary at Mikey’s Juke Joint and the Blues Can. In addition, he has been travelling around Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Oregon, Arkansas and West Virginia to promote his latest solo release, Blue Highway (2013).

williams album

The album is a travelogue down the blue highway, which is more of a state of mind than a place. With songs from the Delta, Mexico and shades of Hawaii, the album reflects Williams’ wide range of influences and highlights his superb guitar playing.

Williams will be making a rare appearance in Ontario in Peterborough, Toronto, St. Catharines and Ottawa on Nov 1, 2, 8 and 12 respectively.