Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bill Williams - the best songster you never heard of

Bill Williams (1897-1973)would be a more familiar name today if not for his late start at making records and noted reluctance for performing anywhere other than at informal gatherings. Going by his repertory, it would be inaccurate to describe Williams as a bluesman; referring to him as a songster would be far more appropriate since he played folk, ragtime, gospel, hillbilly, pop, and blues with equal skill and passion. His diverse songbook and guitar chops left the Richmond, Virginia native sounding like an East Coast equivalent to Mississippi John Hurt, making it a pity that he did not live longer and record more extensively. Williams apparently never had any aspirations to become a professional musician and was content to use his talent as both a pastime and a way to entertain friends. During his younger days, he worked at a number of professions, including waterboy, miner, and cook while spending time in Delaware, Colorado, and Tennessee. Ultimately, he settled in tiny Greenup, Kentucky in 1922, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Although associates and neighbors were well aware of Williams's musical abilities, the remote area where the guitarist made his home allowed him to exist in, as blues historian Stephen Calt puts it, "contended oblivion" essentially throughout the 1950s-1960s blues revival. It was only after a local guitar instructor contacted Yazoo-Blue Goose head honcho Nick Perls in 1970 that this extremely impressive songster discovery became properly recognized as the "most technically accomplished living" musician of his kind!Evidently, Williams was his own toughest critic in regard to his musical abilities and was incredulous that anyone would have interest in recordings of his music. As Low and Lonesome and Blues, Rags and Ballads (with the latter being the better-sounding rip of the two) readily make clear, he was being way too hard on himself since both albums show his guitar-playing skills and earthy singing voice to be remarkably well-preserved. The instrumentalist with which Williams is most often compared is Blind Blake, and the two allegedly spent time playing together while they both briefly lived in Bristol, Tennessee during the early 1920s.While the most familiar species of bluesman shamelessly exaggerates his musical feats before anyone gullible enough to listen, the unassuming Bill Williams is horrified by even favorable notoriety. His satisfaction from the placid virtues of solid citizenship (he is a Kentucky Colonel and an election supervisor) and rugged self-sufficiency (he built his own home and raises much of his own food) than his unsolicited position as the blues'most exciting "find" in a long time.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Odell Harris

BROKE & HUNGRY RECORDS IS SEARCHING FOR ODELL HARRIS Debut CD by hill country bluesman follows label’s acclaimed Back to Bentonia (ST. LOUIS) ­ On Nov. 14, Broke & Hungry Records will unleash Odell Harris onto an unsuspecting blues world. Fans of ragged, heavily amplified country blues are in for a treat when the CD Searching for Odell Harris hits shelves next month. The CD is the first for Harris and the second for the label, which made waves earlier this year with the release of Back to Bentonia by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Harris is a 66-year-old singer and electric blues guitarist from the hills of North Mississippi. His music shares much in common with that of his late friends, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. But he also was influenced as a young man by the blues of his uncle-by-marriage Albert King and his cousin William Bell, who went on to become a soul legend at Stax Records in the 1960s and 1970s. Harris’ sound manages to marry the primal hill-funk of the Burnside/Kimbrough nexus and the greasy strut of a century of coarse Memphis blues. The 12 tracks that make up Searching for Odell Harris range from gripping solo performances of blues standards like “.44 Blues,” “Laughing To Keep From Crying” and “Sitting on Top of the World,” to raucous band performances featuring support from Mississippi native Bill Abel on guitar and Steve Lightnin’ Malcolm on drums and bass. Abel has backed everyone from David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Henry Townsend to Sam Carr and Big George Brock. Malcolm has worked extensively with Jimbo Mathus, the Burnside Exploration and such elder statesmen of the blues as T Model Ford, Cedell Davis, Robert Belfour and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Searching for Odell Harris was recorded during a single all-night recording session on the gulf coast of Mississippi. The name of the disc alludes to Harris’ legendary elusiveness. He rarely performs in spaces more public than a friend’s living room or front porch. Searching for Odell Harris will be available at retailers throughout the U.S. and will be distributed by Burnside Distribution Corporation. The disc also will be available through the Broke & Hungry Records Web site at www.brokeandhungryrecords.com. For more information on this exciting release or on Broke & Hungry Records, contact Jeff Konkel by e-mail at jeff@brokeandhungryrecords.com.