Willie King

Willie King
One Love

Freedom Creek Music, FMC 2006

By Art Tipaldi
October 2006

Willie King is one of the few originals still touring and recording in the South.

Born in 1943, King has been playing some form of the blues since he was a teen.

In the 1980s, King began to write songs about struggles set to a blues funk rhythm. But he also perfected the hard, juke blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf.

When he was discovered in the late 1990s by Jim O’Neal, he was playing at Bettie’s Place, a rural country juke owned by King’s cousin.

His first record, Freedom Creek, for O’Neal’s Rooster Blues label, was recorded live at this home field juke. King was even a featured performer in Martin Scorsese’s PBS Blues special. In the Goin’ Home segment, he talks with Corey Harris about where the blues in him comes from, then he plays two songs at Bettie’s Place.

Here, King treats listeners to more than an hour of 10 hard-nosed, juke songs. This raw music is grounded in a John Lee Hooker style - hypnotic drum and bass boogie rhythms - while King uses a heavy thumb to pick his notes. King possesses the guitar and a voice born in Southern fields. Every note he bends embodies back-breaking Southern days. As a singer, he’s a Baptist preacher delivering a fire and brimstone sermon, the Chicago blues man returned home to sing, or the quintessential juke prophet.

The first tune, “Sweet Potato,’” sets the riveting groove for the evening. King tells that he was inspired to write this song when Taj Mahal called him the “sweet potato man.” Though King’s “Ride Sally Ride” chorus might remind listeners of Mac Rice’s “Mustang Sally.” King credits the children’s rhyme he sang as a child as the song’s inspiration.

Another traditional children’s song King resurrects is the rhyming “Mama Killed A Chicken.”

In the PBS blues series, King sings a shortened version of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” Here, King takes the song to its Delta roots, Howlin’ Wolf style. King’s earthy guitar and voice rely on an infectious groove that strikes a chord in the soul.

King changes gears to a more Johnny Rawls, southern chitlin’ circuit soul on “One Love.” He finishes the disc with a 10-minute monologue about his thoughts on people coming together.

Remember that blues is an essential part of black oral expression. The lyrics tell the story while the music provides the emotional reference. The blues singer sings his or her blues as a way to understand. The listener thus finds comfort in the knowledge that one is not alone. “Writing In The Sky” is that first generation original blues. It has King expressing his thoughts on Hurricane Katrina following the same trail across the ocean as did the slave ships that brought his ancestors to work the fields of America. It’s Interesting connection to the modern day suffering of today’s poor in the wake of the storm.

Remember Patton’s “High Water Everywhere” or “Back Water Blues”?

Those are songs that memorialized the flood of 1927. This song can be as important.



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