Willie King

Blues, R&B Guitar

Born: 1943  Prairie Point, Mississippi

Died: March 8, 2009

Lived in Old Memphis, Alabama

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

I Am The Blues

Willie King (March 18, 1943 – March 8, 2009) was an award-winning blues guitarist and singer, known for shunning fame and playing at a local bar in Mississippi.[1][2]


King was born in Prairie Point, a community in Noxubee County, Mississippi near the Alabama border. Prior to recording, he worked as a share cropper, moonshine maker and traveling salesman to name but a few of his many occupations. Later he became active with the civil rights movement[3], which inspired him to write socially conscious blues songs. In 1983 he founded the Rural Members Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the traditional rural skills King had grown up with, which he called 'survival skills,' and helping improve his local community. In 1997, the Rural Members Association started the annual Freedom Creek blues festival, which has since received international recognition.[4] He began recording in 1999 and his 2000 recordings Freedom Creek and I Am The Blues, were the first of several acclaimed albums.

King performed at national and international festivals but mostly played near his home, most notably as a regular at Bettie's Juke Joint in Mississippi. He described his music as "struggling blues" because of its focus on the "injustices in life in the rural South".[5]

King died from a heart attack shortly before his 66th birthday, near his home in the rural community of Old Memphis, Alabama, just a few miles from his birthplace.[1][6]

Dutch film-makers Saskia Rietmeijer and Bart Drolenga (Visible World Films) wanted to produce a documentary about African American arts and culture in the Deep South. But they met Willie King and instead decided to devote their efforts to creating a documentary about Willie's life and times, titled Down in the Woods. King was also featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 documentary series The Blues and Shout Factory's Blues Story the same year.




Date Title Label Comments

1999 Walkin' the Walk Talkin' the Talk self-produced With "Birmingham" George Conner

2000 I Am the Blues Rural Members Association

Freedom Creek Rooster Blues Live with the Liberators

2002 Living in a New World Rooster Blues With the Liberators

2004 Jukin' at Bettie's Freedom Creek Music

2006 One Love Freedom Creek Music


Date Title Label Formats Comments

2003 Blues Story Shout Factory DVD Directed by Jay Levey

2003 The Blues: Feel Like Going Home Universal/Sony DVD, VHS First episode of a seven-part documentary by Martin Scorsese

2007 Down in the Woods Visible World Films DVD 63 minute documentary plus 40 minutes of live music


Alabama Folk Heritage Award (awarded posthoumously) 2009

Howlin' Wolf Hall of Fame Inducted September 2, 2005

Alabama State Council on the Arts 2004 Artist Fellowship

Living Blues 2003 Blues Artist of the Year, Best Song, Best Cover Art

Living Blues 2001 Best Blues Artist

Living Blues 2000 Best Blues Album, Best Contemporary Blues Album[7]



1^ a b Mamrack, Kristin; Jan Swoope (2009-03-09). "Legendary local bluesman Willie King dies at 66". The Commercial Dispatch. Retrieved 2009-03-15.

2^ http://www.lastingtribute.co.uk/tribute/king/3038034

3^ http://www.willie-king.com/

4^ "Rural Members Association". Alabama Blues Project. Retrieved 2009-07-10.

5^ http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20090309/NEWS/903091998/0/SPORTS04

6^ "Willie King, Bluesman, Is Dead at 65". New York Times. 2009-03-10. Retrieved 11 March 2009.

7^ http://www.alabamablues.org/Willie%20King/WillieKingIndex.htm#awards

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_King





While he's only come to a national audience in recent years, Alabama-based bluesman Willie King sets himself apart from many of today's modern bluesmen and blueswomen by his insistence on addressing topical and political issues in his songwriting. But in reality, the blues has a long tradition of protest songs or other songs written to bring about societal change. King's 2001 debut for the Rooster Blues label, Freedom Creek, with his band, the Liberators, opens with "Second Coming," a song about the immortal nature of the spirit, and invokes civil rights activists John Brown and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., certainly great spirits whose thoughts and deeds live on in America and around the world. Other topical and political songs on King's Rooster Blues debut include "Pickens County Payback," "Stand Up and Speak the Truth," and "Clean Up the Ghetto." An earlier album, 1999's I Am the Blues, was released through a group he is a part of, the Rural Members Association.


A guitarist and singer/songwriter, King was born in Prairie Point, MS, on March 8, 1943. His grandparents and local sharecroppers raised King and his siblings after his mother and father separated when he was two. Fortunately, King was raised in a music-filled household, as his grandfather was a fan of both gospel and blues music. A young Willie King made his own didley-bo, a one-stringed instrument, by nailing a bailing wire to a tree in his yard. He began playing that and eventually progressed to guitar, when his plantation owner, W.P. Morgan, brought him his first guitar, an acoustic Gibson, when he was 13 years old. King paid off the $60 price tag for the guitar by working on the plantation and feeding the plantation's cows in the morning. He made his professional debut at a house party in Mississippi, playing all night for two dollars. King focused his efforts on learning more tunes and expanded his repertoire to include tunes by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, and John Lee Hooker.

In 1967, King moved to Chicago and spent a year trying to find secure work in that city's south and west sides. He returned to Old Memphis, AL, and began working as a salesman, traveling rural roads, peddling his goods, and talking politics with mostly poor, rural Alabama residents. King got involved in the civil rights movement and with the left-wing Highlander Center. Throughout the 1970s, King continued to write blues songs inspired by the civil rights activism of performers like Josh White, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, the Freedom Singers, and Pete Seeger. King calls his political songs "struggling songs," and in reality, they are political tunes used to educate his audiences. As he explains in his biography accompanying Freedom Creek, "Through the music, I could reach more people, get them to listen."

In 1987, Rooster Blues founder Jim O'Neal was blown away by King and his band at a festival in Eutaw, AL. O'Neal was attracted to King's juke-joint guitar stylings, raw vocals, and political lyrics. The pair kept in touch during the next 13 years, and when O'Neal relocated his label to Memphis from Chicago, the two hooked up to record Freedom Creek, which was released in October 2000. King's Freedom Creek album was recorded on location at Bettie's Place in Prairie Point, MS. The success of the album brought about a follow-up, Living in a New World, released in 2002, with liner notes penned by poet, blues scholar, political activist, and former MC5 manager John Sinclair, who was then based in New Orleans.

If there's any justice in this world, in coming years this prolific songwriter and powerful singer and guitar player should continue to be well recorded. King and his Liberators are a vital part of a long tradition of social and civil activism in the blues form. King's raw guitar sound and soulful vocals and his band's simple yet complex message songs need to be brought to more festivals like the Chicago Blues Festival, the San Francisco Blues Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and other festivals of international prominence.           by Richard Skelly

Source: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/willie-king-p451993/biography


Obituary By Tommy Stevenson Associate Editor

Published: Monday, March 9, 2009 at 8:31 a.m.

Last Modified: Monday, March 9, 2009 at 8:31 a.m.

World renowned Pickens County blues musician Willie King died of a heart attack Sunday near his home in Old Memphis. He was 65.


King, whose Freedom Creek Festival has attracted top blues musicians and bands since 1997 when he started the two day festival on his farm near the Mississippi state line, first came to prominence outside West Alabama with his critically-acclaimed 2000 CD “Freedom Creek” on the Rooster Blues Record.

With a voice reminiscent at times of Howlin’ Wolf and a style similar to John Lee Hooker’s, King also brought an understanding of history and contemporary subject matter to the forefront with songs like “Second Coming,” which invoked both abolitionist John Brown and Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.

“Willie King was unique among modern blues musicians,” said Peter Guralnick, the author of two award-winning books about Elvis Presley, “Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love,” as well as “The Listener’s Guide to The Blues.”

“He combined the standard blues elements, but he sang about more than the standard blues subjects. I like all his albums, but he was one of those musicians who lived in the moment and I think you had to hear him live to get what he was all about,” Guralnick said.” I well remember hearing him at Betties [a Juke Joint just across the Mississippi line] and it was just amazing how the audience interacted with him and his songs, many on subjects you don’t often hear sung about in those types of places.

“King was late in getting in the studio, but I think the few recordings he did make will be played for a long time.”


“Freedom Creek” received universal rave reviews and earned him several awards, including the magazine Living Blues Best Contemporary Blues Album. King put out five more CDs and began to tour extensively in the United States and Europe.

“He did began to tour, but I don’t think he was ever very happy with that,” Rick Asherson, his keyboard player said. “He liked to stay around his home and the people he knew best.

“Willie once described his type of blues, which deal with things a lot of blues don’t deal with as ‘struggling blues,’ and by that he didn’t mean the usual things. He meant struggling with the injustices in life in the rural south.”

David Childs, a contractor from Lewisville, Miss., has a somewhat different perspective of King.

“I met him at a festival once and talked to him and asked if I could get a picture of him with my 17-year-old son,” Childs said. “He looked at him and asked if he played guitar and I said, yeah, he was a pretty fair player.

“Well, even though he was white, Willie took my son under his wing and took him to some gigs with him,” Childs said. “He never did give him any guitar lessons, but he gave him a lot of what you might call life lessons.

“I think of Willie as a preacher as well as a blues man,” Childs said. “He cared about people and cared and talk about what was right.”

Ascherson said the Freedom Creek Festival grew out of his work with youth in the area and the The Rural Member Association he founded.

“The Rural Member Association still sponsors classes in music, woodworking, food preservation and other African-American traditions,” he said.

It has also provided transportation, legal assistance and other services for the poor over the last two decades, he added.


King’s riveting music and life committed to the people around him prompted a Dutch documentary, “Down in the Woods,” which was released on DVD last year and captures King not only in concert but among in his community and on his farm.

King had just been selected for this year’s Alabama Folk Like Heritage Award by the Alabama State Council of the Arts and the 12th annual Freedom Creek Festival May 29 and 30 had already booked bluesman Kenny Neal, from Baton Rouge, an and Cedrick Burnside from north Mississippi.

Asherson said that no definite plans for this year’s festival have been made in the wake of King’s death, “but we hope to keep it going as a memorial to him.”

Asherson’s wife, Debbie Bond, who has also been playing guitar with King, said his death “came as a shock.”

“He had had some health problems, but nothing that we thought was life-threatening,” she said. “He was still going strong on stage and this is just devastating.”

Funeral arrangement will be announced by Lavender Funeral Home and posted at his website, www.willie-king.com.

Reach Tommy Stevenson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 205-722-0195.

For video of Tommy Stevenson and Cara Smith's June 2008 discussion of Willie King, see http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090309/VIDEO/903092005&template=video&lineup=428900985

Source: http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20090309/NEWS/903091998/0/SPORTS04


WILLIE KING MEMORIAL HOME PAGE: http://www.alabamablues.org/Willie%20King/WillieKingIndex.htm





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