Joseph Lee “Big Joe” Williams (October 16, 1903 – December 17, 1982) was an American Delta blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, notable for the distinctive sound of his nine-string guitar. Performing over four decades, he recorded the songs “Baby Please Don’t Go“, “Crawlin’ King Snake” and “Peach Orchard Mama”, among many others, for various record labels, including Bluebird, Delmark, Okeh, Prestige and Vocalion. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame on October 4, 1992.
The blues historian Barry Lee Pearson (Sounds Good to Me: The Bluesman’s Story, Virginia Piedmont Blues) described Williams’s performance:
- When I saw him playing at Mike Bloomfield’s “blues night” at the Fickle Pickle, Williams was playing an electric nine-string guitar through a small ramshackle amp with a pie plate nailed to it and a beer can dangling against that. When he played, everything rattled but Big Joe himself. The total effect of this incredible apparatus produced the most buzzing, sizzling, African-sounding music I have ever heard.
Born in Oktibbeha County, a few miles west of Crawford, Mississippi, Williams as a youth began wandering across the United States busking and playing in stores, bars, alleys and work camps. In the early 1920s he worked in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels revue. He recorded with the Birmingham Jug Band in 1930 for Okeh Records.