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Joe Willie Wilkins
Joe Willie Wilkins
Rebellion against his parents was certainly not part of the scenario with this bluesman, who was mostly known as a sideman, but was a major influence as a guitarist all the same. He was born in the heart of the Mississippi Delta and his father was the bluesman Papa Frank Wilkins, a friend of the great country bluesman Charley Patton. Joe Willie Wilkins was already picking pretty good blues guitar at an early age, after also learning both harmonica and accordion. He picked up the nickname of "the Walkin' Seeburg," a reference to the brand name of a popular jukebox in the '30s, for his knack at learning songs, resulting in a unique ability to perform almost any request. In the early '40s, he replaced Robert Jr. Lockwood in the band of the hard-driving harmonica champion Sonny Boy Williamson II, a gig that required an ability to play the type of jazzy phrases, chords, and runs that the leader favored in his arrangements. The guitarist can be heard on a good number of recordings by Williamson, as well as on sides by artists such as Willie Love and Big Joe Williams, playing bass with the latter master of blues eccentricity. Along with fellow guitarist Houston Stackhouse, Wilkins performed with Williamson on the famous KKFA Mother's Best Flour Hour radio show out of Helena, AR; if blues fans were all bakers, this would be the most popular brand of flour in the world. Whatever effect the music did have on flour sales, it certainly turned heads of musicians. According to no less an expert than Muddy Waters, Wilkins was the first guitarist he heard in Mississippi who was playing single string patterns without using a slide. The dropping of the slide was an essential stylistic trademark of the new postwar electric blues guitar playing. Waters has been quoted praising Wilkins highly: "The man is great, the man is stone great. For blues, like I say, he's the best." B.B. King must have also thought so; he took lessons from Wilkins in the late '40s, and some blues fans feel there is a little bit of this elder statesman in every riff B.B. King plays.
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