Friday, December 17, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Wilkins worked in Memphis during the Roaring Twenties, sharing billing with Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie (whom he claimed to have tutored), Son House, and other musicians for local shows.
He also organized a jug band to capitalize on the "jug band craze" then in vogue. Though never attaining success comparable to the Memphis Jug Band, Wilkins reinforced his local popularity with a 1927 appearance on a Memphis radio station. Like Sleepy John Estes (and unlike Gus Cannon of Cannon's Jug Stompers) he recorded alone or with a single accompanist. He sometimes performed as Tim Wilkins or as Tim Oliver (his stepfather's name).
His best known songs are "That's No Way To Get Along" (to which he – an ordained minister since the 1930s – had changed the 'unholy' words to a biblical theme and since titled it "The Prodigal Son", covered under that title by The Rolling Stones), "Rolling Stone", and "Old Jim Canan's". His first sessions for the Victor label in 1928 yielded the droning, one-chord "Rolling Stone," whose title, if not structure, later inspired Muddy Waters.Led Zeppelin also wrote "Poor Tom", which was believed to have been influenced by "That's No Way To Get Along".
During the 1920s and 1930s, Robert Wilkins was one of the most popular blues artists associated with Beale Street. In a personal crisis, he turned to the Lord, offering his life in exchange for that of his beloved wife, and never looked back.Alarmed by fighting at a party where he was playing, he deserted secular music and he took up the twin careers of herbalist and minister in the Church of God in Christ in the 1930s, and began playing gospel music with a blues feel.
When the Rolling Stones recorded Wilkins' "Prodigal Son" in the early '60s, blues researchers found Wilkins at home in Memphis, ministering to the congregation at the Lane Avenue Church of God in Christ and performing gospel songs (which bore a striking melodic similarity to Tim Wilkins' blues) at street corner revivals.Made appearances at folk festivals and recording his gospel blues for a new audience. These include the 1964 Newport Folk Festival; his performance of "Prodigal Son" there was included on the Vanguard album Blues at Newport.His distinction was his versatility; he could play ragtime, blues, minstrel songs, and gospel with equal facility.
Wikins died in May 1987 in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 91.
Monday, December 6, 2010
As the guitarist in the first band led by Howlin' Wolf, Johnson appeared on most of Wolf's recordings between 1951 and 1953, providing the slightly jazzy yet raucous guitar sound that was the signature of all of Wolf's Memphis recordings. Johnson also performed and recorded with other blues artists in the Memphis area, including pianist Willie Love, Willie Nix, Junior Parker, Roscoe Gordon, Bobby "Blue" Bland and others.
When Wolf moved to Chicago in around 1953, he could not convince Johnson to join him. Johnson stayed on in Memphis for several years, playing on a number of sessions for Sun Records, including a 1955 collaboration with vocalist Sammy Lewis, "I Feel So Worried", released under the name Sammy Lewis with Willie Johnson. By the time Johnson relocated to Chicago, Wolf had already hired guitarist Hubert Sumlin as a permanent replacement. James Cotton later recalled that Wolf replaced Johnson because of his heavy drinking.
Johnson occasionally performed and recorded with Howlin' Wolf after settling in Chicago, and also played briefly in the band of Muddy Waters, as well as a number of other local Chicago blues musicians, including J. T. Brown, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He made his living mainly outside of music for the rest of his life, only occasionally sitting in with the bands of his old friends around Chicago.
His final recordings were made for Earwig Records in Chicago in the early 1990s. Willie Johnson died in Chicago on February 21, 1995