ARTISTSONGALBUM
Sonny Boy Williamson IIMr. Down ChildCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Joe Willie WilkinsMr. Down ChildJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Sonny Boy Williamson IICool, Cool BluesCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIEyesight To The BlindCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIWest Memphis Blues Cool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Albert WilliamsHoodoo ManSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Albert WilliamsRhumba ChillenSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Honeyboy EdwardsSweet Home ChicagoSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Willie NixSeems Like A Million YearsSun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Willie NixBakershop Boogie Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958
Joe Willie WilkinsMe & The Devil BluesJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Joe Willie WilkinsSad LetterJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Sonny Boy Williamson IIStop Crying Cool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IICome Back HomeCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IINine Below ZeroCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Joe Willie WilkinsWalkin' Blues/Feel Like Goin' HomeJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Joe Willie WilkinsIt's Too BadJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys
Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup Gotta Find My BabyCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Willie Love Everybody's Fishing Cool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson III Cross My HeartCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIStop NowCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIPontiac BluesCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Roosevelt Sykes She's Jailbait Roosevelt Sykes Vol .10 1951-1957
Roosevelt Sykes Sputnik BabyRoosevelt Sykes Vol .10 1951-1957
Houston StackhouseCrying Won't Help YouMemphis Blues Caravan Vol. I
Charlie BookerNew Moonrise BluesMemphis Blues Caravan Vol. II
Sonny Boy Williamson IICat HopCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Sonny Boy Williamson IIShe Brought Life Back To The DeadCool Cool Blues: The Classic Sides 1951-1954
Houston Stackhouse Cool Drink Of Water The Devil's Music
Houston Stackhouse Mean Red SpiderThe Devil's Music
Joe Willie WilkinsHucklefingerJoe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys

Show Notes:

Joe Willie Wilkins
Joe Willie Wilkins, Ann Arbor, 1973. Photo by Sandy Sutherland.

Joe Willie Wilkins spent the majority of his career in the shadows as a session guitarist, playing behind Sonny boy Williamson II, Willie Love, Will Nix among others and off record with bluesmen such as Robert Lockwood Jr., Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, Walter Horton and others. Through his studio contributions, his time broadcasting on King Biscuit Time on KFFA and out of West Memphis on WDIA, and the sheer number of bluesman he worked with throughout the Delta, Wilkins exerted a sizable influence despite never cutting records under his own name until the 70's. Those who cite him as an influence include Pat Hare, Little Milton, Jimmy Rogers and Brewer Phillips. He stepped out of the shadows in the 70's performing at festivals, making television appearances and a long overdue full-length album. As Luigi Monge wrote in the Encyclopedia of the Blues: “Wilkins incorporated in his playing the intensity of downhome blues, the elegance of jazz, and the power of urban sounds. His achievement transcends the quantity of recordings he left and has more to do with quality and originality.” And as his supporter Jim O'Neal wrote: “One of the greatest blues guitarists Memphis has ever known”-

The only child of Frank Wilkins, an accomplished bottleneck guitarist, Joe Willie became interested in music at a very early age.Wilkinswas born just southwest of Clarksdale in a tiny spot known as Davenport, Mississippi. Wilkins taught himself harmonica and often played with his father at local parties and dances in the Bobo, Mississippi, area, where his family had moved in 1933 to work on a farm. After being taught some fiddle by "Fiddlin’" Sam Harris and accordion by Walter "Pat" Rhodes, Wilkins learned guitar from his father, the members in his band, and phonograph records so well that he was nicknamed "The Walking Seeburg" after a brand of jukebox). His musical education was also enhanced by meeting several musicians around Clarksdale including Muddy Waters, Robert Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller).

After playing in the Mississippi streets and barrelhouses with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Miller) and Robert Lockwood, Wilkins briefly served in the U.S. Navy. From 1942 he regularly participated with his mentors and other fellow musicians in the famous radio program King Biscuit Time over KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, and with Robert Nighthawk (whose sister he married) in the Bright Star Flour show. At the end of the decade Wilkins often toured the South with a group known as the Four Aces (Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love, Willie Nix). Wilkins moved to West Memphis in 1948 where he played with local musicians and met B.B. King whom broadcast with.

King Biscuit Time

Wilkins first entered a studio as late as 1951, when he played guitar on the first recordings Sonny Boy Williamson II made for Lillian McMurry’s Trumpet Records in Jackson, Mississippi, where Wilkins acted as house guitarist for two years. Wilkins backed Sonny Boy on ten sides in 1951, four sides in 1952 and final three sides in 1953. One of the songs was “Mr. Down Child” a Robert Johnson composition that he never recorded. It was Robert Lockwood who transposed the song and taught it to Sonny Boy who recorded it on December 4th 1951. Lockwood recorded his version in 1973. It seemed to be a favorite of Wilkins' who cut the song as the b-side of his first 45 for the Mimosa label in 1973, another version was cut for Wilkins' debut album and another version appears on the soundtrack fro the BBC TV series The Devil's Music.

During the 50's Wilkins backed several artists at Sun studios including Willie Nix, Honeyboy Edwards and Albert Williams. The Edwards and Williams sides were unissued at the time. Wilkins said he tried a session of his own for the label but lacked confidence and nothing ever materialized.  Nix's "Seems Like A Million Years b/w Baker Shop Boogie" was issued as a 78 by the label. Nix toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels Shows as a dancing comedian in the 30's and during the early '40s, performed on streets and parks around Memphis. In 1947, Nix appeared with Robert Lockwood, Jr. on a Little Rock radio station and subsequently worked with Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Love and Joe Willie Wilkins as the Four Aces. Nix joined B.B. King and Joe Hill Louis for appearances on Memphis radio, and worked with The Beale Streeters during the late '40s. He made his first records in Memphis for RPM in 1951, and cut sides for Chess Records' Checker offshoot in 1952. Sam Philips signed him up as "the Memphis Blues Boy" for Sun in early 1953, as a singing drummer with a band, and he later cut sides for the Chance label in Chicago.

Willie Nix & Joe Willie Wilkins
Joe Willie Wilkins & Willie Nix from Blues
Unlimited #120, courtesy Steve La Vere

In 1959 Wilkins' father died and Joe Willie moved from West Memphis to Memphis, where he worked mostly outside music until about 1970. Despite bad health, Wilkins took up guitar again as a result of his wife Carrie’s encouragement and of blues writer and promoter Jim O’Neal’s support, often playing with Houston Stackhouse. Wilkins formed his King Biscuit Boys group featuring the ever present Stackhouse and a changing line up that included harp players Boy Blue and Sonny Blake and guitarist Clarence Nelson. Wilkins made appearances at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, the Memphis River City Blues Festival and worked as part of the Memphis Blues Caravan, a traveling show made up of first generation bluesmen such as Sleepy John Esets, Bukka White, Furry Lewis and others. Performances appear on the albums Memphis Blues Caravan Vol. I & II.

In 1973 Steve LaVere’s Mimosa label released Wilkins’s first recordings under his own name, a 45, “It's Too Bad b/w "Mr. Downchild.” A full-length album titled Joe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys was released by Adamo that included some live performances and studio recordings. In 1976 Wilkins also played the Monterrey Jazz Festival and appeared in the BBC Television series The Devil’s Music: A History of the Blues. Wilkins passed March 28, 1979 in Memphis.

Related Articles:

-Joe Willie Wilkins Obituary by Cilla Huggins (Blues Unlimited 134, March/June 1979) [PDF]

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