Music you can’t live without #2

Big Bill Broonzy

William Lee Conley Broonzy was bron in Scott, Mississippi in either 1893  or 1898 or possibly 1901.

One of seventeen children, his parents were born into slavery. The family moved to Arkansas in 1903 and Bill served in the first world war. After the war he moved to Chicago and married.

The big musical influence on Bill came from his uncle, a figure he often mentions in his talks to the audience between songs. He taught Bill to play the fiddle and Bill played in various party bands in the early 20’s. His first recordings were made in 1927, (some 11 years before the great Robert Johnson laid down his work).

In the 50’s Bill began a number of tours of Europe which produced arguably his best work. During these tours he had a huge influence on the young musicians who would lead the British Blues explosion in the late 50’s.

Bill died on 15th August 1958 having undergone surgery for throat cancer.

He left behind a huge canon of work, folk, blues and spirituals  all pushed along by that driving guitar and huge voice. Trad songs like “Crawdad hole”, “midnight Special” and “John Henry” are matched with his own compositions such as “Hey hey”, and “Bankers Blues” Also of interest are the political songs “Black, brown and white” “When will get to be called a man” and “It was just a dream”

For me the recordings which stand up best are the solo gigs, he seems to lose something when playing with a band. In a radio programme in 1956 he described how the blues is a feeling “you don’t know what you’re going to sing” perhaps the need to keep time with a band meant he lost some of this spontaneity.

if you’re new to him you could do a lot worse than checking out the double cd “Amsterdam live concerts 1953”  reissued in 2006. Some great notes and discography too.

More detailed info on Bill and his music here and here

His autobiography “Big Bill blues” published in 1956 is well worth a read too.

There is some rare footage of Bill performing check this out

The interview with Studs Terkel and Pete Seeger is well worth a listen too.

you can get it here

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