The Blues Trust Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually. The Award is in recognition of an individuals contributions to American Music.

1998 - 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002
2003 -2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007


2008 Recipients

Jody Williams

Joseph Leon Williams was born in Mobile, Alabama on February 3, 1935. Jody moved to Chicago with his family in 1940. He started his life in music as a harmonica player, meeting Bo Diddley at an amateur talent show. He asked Diddley to teach him to play guitar and in 1951 he started to play behind Bo. The following year they were joined by Billy Boy Arnold on harmonica.

That was the beginning of his association playing with a long line of musicians who would become legends of the Blues. He played with pianist Henry Gray, Memphis Minnie, and Elmore James and was a room mate of Otis Spann. He also toured with Charles Brown and Johnny Moore.

In 1954 Williams recorded sessions at Chess Records with Howlin’ Wolf, who had just arrived in Chicago. His guitar can be heard on the Wolf classics Evil (Is Going On), Forty Four and Who Will Be Next. In addition, he played on Bo Diddley’s recording, Who Do You Love and Billy Boy Arnold’s I Ain’t Got You.

Williams recorded with one of his influences, B.B. King on Otis Spann’s Checker single, Five Spot. Listening to William’s instrumental, Lucky Lou, you can hear the inspiration for Otis Rush’s popular hit All You Love (I Miss Loving)  

After a tour of duty in the Army he returned to Chicago and the music business until the late 60s. He eventually grew tired of the little return and recognition for his work. He retired from music, becoming an engineer for Xerox to support his family. His trusty Gibson, Red Lightnin' sat silent under his bed for years.  

After attending a Robert Lockwood Jr. show at the beginning of the 21st Century, he decided to pick up Red Lightnin' once again. Williams released two critically acclaimed recordings for Evidence Records. In 2002, Return of a Legend earned him a WC Handy Award for Comeback Album of the Year and paired him with old friend Billy Boy Arnold. You Left Me In The Dark was released in 2004 and includes a guest appearance by Robert Lockwood Jr. Both discs were produced by Dick Shurman.

In a sad twist of fate and commentary on the financial state of the Blues; Red Lightnin' sits in the Chicago Music Exchange, traded in for cash and a new blonde Epiphone guitar. Even a legend, whose instrument made legendary music, has to make tough decisions in order to survive. Jody Williams' role in American music is significant and secure.


2007 Recipients

Sir Mack Rice

Bonny “Mack” Rice was born November 10, 1933 in Clarksdale, MS. In the mid 50s he joined The Falcons, whose others members were Joe Stubs, Wilson Pickett, Willie Scholfield, Lance Finney and Eddie Floyd. Rice wrote some big hits for The Falcons, including Mustang Sally, You’re So Fine and I Found a Love.

Rice joined the famous Memphis Soul label, Stax Records and went on to write more hits. Respect Yourself was made famous by the Staple Singers, Do The Breakdown for Rufus Thomas, Johnny Taylor had a hit with Cheaper to Keep Her and Albert King recorded Cadillac Assembly Line.

Although he made his name at Stax Records, Sir Mack Rice has recorded for many other labels including Blue Rock, Lu Pine, Mercury, Capitol, Atco, Truth and Blue Suit. All told, Sir Mack Rice has over 400 song writing credits to his name!

 

Sonny Rhodes

Sonny Rhodes was born Clarence Edward Smith in Smithville, Texas on November 3, 1940 into a family of sharecroppers. He began playing guitar at age 12, with inspiration from his blind uncle, who was making more money buskin’ for change on “Wino’s Corner” in Smithville, than Sonny was making in the cotton fields.

Rhodes was a sideman for two other great Texas Bluesmen; Freddie King and Albert Collins. He began his recording career in 1958. Rhodes spent time in the Navy and then settled in Fresno, California and then Oakland to record for Galaxy Records. He lived in Florida for a time, but is now back living in the Oakland area.

The self described “Disciple of the Blues”, Rhodes has recorded over 200 songs. Some labels he has recorded for include Ichiban, Galaxy, Stony Plain, Kingsnake, Evidence, the European labels Black Magic and Appaloosa and on his own Rhodesway Records.

 

 

Chicago Bob Nelson

Born on the 4 th of July 1944, Robert Nelson grew up in Bogalusa, LA. In his teens he began working in New Orleans. In the late '50s he moved to Gary, IN, and toured with Earl Hooker. In the early '60s, he began working in Chicago with and befriended Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, who gave him the nickname Chicago Bob.

He formed the Chicago Bob Blues Band and performed locally. In the late '60s he moved to Boston and was out of the music business for a time. He returned to music in the early '70s and worked with Tinsley Ellis and the Heartfixers and the Shadows.

Nelson has released recordings on the Ichiban and King Snake labels. In 2006 he released Flying Too High on 95 North Records. The recording features an All Star New England Blues lineup with David Maxwell, Monster Mike Welch, Troy Gonyea, Doug James, Per Hanson and Mudcat Ward.

 

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2006 Recipients


Robert Lockwood Junior

 Robert Lockwood was born in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas on March 27, 1915. That same year, all within the same region in the Mississippi Delta, Blues legends Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Johnny Shines and Honeyboy Edwards were also born. As of 2006, Honeyboy and Robert Lockwood are the only surviving Delta Blues Legends still with us.

Lockwood learned guitar from fabled Bluesman, Robert Johnson, who was living with Lockwood's mother. That is why he is referred to as Robert Lockwood Jr. He first recorded for the Bluebird label in 1941. Also that year, he teamed with Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II) broadcasting the noontime radio show sponsored by King Biscuit Flower on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. The exposure he gained from that show did much to boost his popularity.

He was also in the right place at the right time during the Golden Age of Chicago Blues in the 1950s. He was a session musician for Chess Records, recording behind, Little Walter, his friend Sonny Boy II and some legendary pianists; Sunnyland Slim, Eddie Boyd and the Honeydripper, Roosevelt Sykes.

He recorded for the Trix label and moved to Cleveland in the 1960s and in the 70s recorded with the Myers brothers. He collaborated with Johnny Shines on two discs for Rounder in the 1980s. He took time off from the studio until the late 90s, but since has continued with a steady output of releases on Verve, Telarc and M.C. Records. Robert Lockwood's Delta roots, Chicago Blues pedigree and his ability to swing on the twelve string, certainly make him an integral figure in the history of American music.

 

 

Finis Tasby

Finis Tasby was born in Dallas Texas in 1940.Tasby’s first professional music gig was with the Texas based Blues Blasters, playing drums for the band in the 50’s. In the early 60’s he teamed with Z.Z. Hill to form the Thunderbirds, a name later used by another Texas band that deemed themselves, The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Finis played bass behind Hill and later led the band when Hill left. The Thunderbirds would back traveling artists, like Clarence Carter and Lowell Fulson when they came to Texas. He also drove for and played with Freddie King.

Tasby moved to Los Angeles in 1973 and has been a fixture on the West Coast Blues scene ever since. He has recorded under his own name with Shanachie Records, Evidence and Canada’s Electro-Fi imprint. Tasby was a friend and peer to another west coast Blues transplant, John Lee Hooker. After his death, Tasby recorded a tribute album to the late great boogieman. In addition to his solo career, Tasby leads the west coast based Mannish Boys, a revolving cast of sensations like T-Bird veterans Kid Ramos and Kirk Fletcher. His vocal talents can also be heard on Fletcher’s solo recording and that of Italy’s Enrico Crivellaro.

Tasby has enjoyed a taste of Hollywood since he relocated to the Golden State. He appeared in the 1985 movie, Sharkey’s Machine, starring Burt Reynolds and his music appeared on the soundtrack of the film, The Babysitter. But it’s his contributions to music that truly deserve recognition and wider acclaim.

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2005 Recipients


Luther Guitar Junior Johnson

Born April 11, 1939 in Itta Bena, Mississippi, Johnson may be best known for the years he played guitar for Muddy Waters during the 1970s. However, his major influence was Magic Sam, whose band he played in briefly in the mid-60s. It was with Sam that he picked up his West Side Chicago guitar style that he is still know for today. His Mississippi upbringing, where Gospel was so prevalent, accounts for his soulful vocals. This, in tandem with his formidable guitar talent set him apart from performers who are prodigious in just one or the other.

His debut release, Luther’s Blues was recorded in 1976 for the Evidence label, while on tour in Europe with Muddy Waters. Subsequently, he has recorded for Alligator, Rooster Blues, Bullseye and Telarc Records. Although he moved to Chicago in the mid 50s from the south and attained fame in the Windy City, Luther has been a New England resident for the past two decades.

There have been three Bluesmen named Luther Johnson. In addition to Guitar Junior,
there are also two from Georgia. Luther “Georgia Boy”, who was also called “Snake Boy” Johnson and Luther “Houserocker” Johnson, have been mixing up even those familiar with the three. To compound the confusion, Luther “Georgia Boy” Johnson also played with Muddy Waters previous to Junior and moved to the Boston area a few years ahead of Guitar Junior! Much of that confusion ended in 1976 when “Georgia Boy” died of cancer at the age of 41.

 

Louisiana Red

 Born Iverson Minter on March 23, 1936, Red is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi. His path to the Blues was set into action at an early age. Tragic events young in life led to the death of both his parents. His mother died of pneumonia, shortly after giving birth to Red. When he was just five years old his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan.

Among surviving Bluesmen, Red’s guitar style is considered by many to be as similar to Muddy Waters as there is today. A terrific slide guitarist as well as harmonica player, his pleading vocals are the convincing attribute that commands the listener’s attention. After a stint in the Army, he joined with John Lee Hooker for two years, while Hooker was still in Detroit. He moved to New Jersey in 1960 and it was about that time that he first recorded under the nickname, Louisiana Red. In 1962 his release on Roulette, Lowdown Back Porch Blues, brought him his first notoriety. He has recorded with many different labels over the years. Since 1976 he has lived in Germany.

 

 

Ernie Williams

A native of Fairfax, Virginia, Williams has been playing Blues since the 1930s.

Picking tobacco by day and playing the Blues by night, he soon earned enough money to move to New York City. He played amateur nights at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and juke joints throughout the city, sometimes as many as seven nights a week.

In the 1960s his music career took a back seat to his priority of raising a family and he moved north to Albany. During the 1970s he started playing again, at Blues jams and whenever he could get time away from his day jobs. In the early 1990s he began to focus on the music again, forming The Wildcats. Williams has eight releases to his credit and has been playing music for over six decades. He is the performer in a series of magazine and TV ads for a line of copiers called Canon Blues.

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2004 Recipients


Photo courtesy of Alligator Records

Carey Bell

Born Carey Harrington in Macon, Mississippi on November 24, 1936, Carey Bell has attained legendary status as a premier harmonica player. Just barely in his teens, he played harp with piano player Lovie Lee, who was his Godfather. Like his cousin, Eddy (Clearwater) Harrington, he migrated to Chicago to ply his craft. He learned directly from Little Walter Jacobs, Big Walter Horton and Sonny Boy Williamson (Aleck "Rice" Miller). He first sat in with Honeyboy Edwards in 1962 and after being kicked out of his in laws residence because of unemployment, stayed with Edwards and his wife Bessie. Carey played with Honeyboy who showed him around town and introduced him to his mentors. On weekends they would carry their amplifiers to the open air market on Maxwell Street known as Jewtown, because of the concentration of European Jews who had also migrated to Chicago after World War II. Bell met all the greats on Maxwell Street and when he couldn't get a gig on his own, he played bass for Robert Nighthawk, Big Walter and Johnny Young.

By the end of the 60s he was recording under his own name for Delmark. His debut on Delmark Records included Chicago legends Eddie Taylor, Pinetop Perkins and Jimmy Dawkins. In 1972 he recorded with Big Walter, becoming a true master of the chromatic harmonica. He cut discs for Rooster Blues and Blind Pig in the 70s and 80s and some of his best material for Alligator in the 90s. He was paired with other harmonica greats James Cotton, Junior Wells and Billy Branch for the 1990 release Harp Attack! He has also recorded with his son, guitarist Lurrie Bell on a number of releases.

 

Photo courtesy of Dialtone Records

Lil Joe Washington

Born March 1, 1939, Marion Washington was raised in Houston's Third Ward by an Aunt and Uncle who ran a soul food café and barbershop. They lived upstairs from the business on the corner of Beulah and Velasco, across from Albert Collins and down the street from Joe Hughes. He played trumpet in the High School marching band, but dropped out of school in the ninth grade.

His first professional gig was playing drums in Albert Collins band, but picked up the guitar when he was inspired by Joe Hughes, who married Lil Joe's cousin. Marion became know at that time as "Lil Joe." He left Houston in the 60's, bound for El Paso and played infamous hangouts like Club Society and The Lobby Bar in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. The hard living lifestyle resulted in problems with substance abuse. The Champs brought him to California, where he recorded the original versions of Hard Way Four and The Last Tear for the Donna label. In LA he acquired his varied musical styles from playing with Big Mama Thornton, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Stitt, the Champs, the Platters and the Ink Spots.

Joe returned to Houston, sleeping in the abandoned building that used to be the café and barbershop. After it burned down, he slept in a car on the property. He has had health problems, but despite all of the hardships, he released Houston Guitar Blues on Austin's Dialtone Records. With the release and subsequent attention, his living conditions have stabilized and things are moving in a positive direction for Lil Joe Washington.

 

Shor'ty Billups

Born February 1, 1933 in New London, Connecticut, Mr. Billups started at an early age singing and playing the piano. He started traveling and performing for our troops at age 15 with the USO. At 18, Mr. Billups had to set aside his dancing shoes for the sole purpose of serving his country. He served for the next four years but never lost sight of his vision. After returning home and completing four years of college, Mr. Billups decided to focus his attention solely on his music.

In 1961 he taught himself how to play the drums and has been playing them every day since. He is one of the first with the ability to play the drums while singing and wooing the crowd. He has traveled extensively throughout the States and has played in nine countries.

After his last trip abroad accompanied by Oscar Toney Jr., he moved to Atlanta by way of Mississippi playing with Lattimore and the late ZZ Hill. He stayed there for 15 years learning the "low-down Southern blues" and the dialect throughout the South. He played with saxophonist King Charles of Long Island, N.Y., Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, Clarence Carter, Bill Doggett, Rufus and Carla Thomas and many more. He is known as the "short man with the funky foot."

He has sung and produced approximately 26-28 songs, some on his label, Solid Gold. You can hear that very distinct voice on the 45 version of "Boss Chick," "I Won't Be Around" and "Hoochi-Coo" as well as the CD "Alone With Shor'ty." Mr. Billups has worked closely with his son, Stephan Billups at their recording studio located in Springfield, MA perfecting the sounds and songs of his latest CD.

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2003 Recipients


Photo courtesy of Blues Planet Records

Hubert Sumlin

Hubert Sumlin was born on a cotton plantation near Greenwood, Mississippi on November 16, 1931. Like many Delta Blues Guitarists, his early years were spent strumming broom wire attached to his Father's house. After breaking the makeshift guitar, his Mother spent her weekly pay of $8 from her job at a local funeral home to buy young Hubert his first real guitar. Fortunately for Sumlin, he was better at music than cotton picking and his Father excused him from his chores. He gained a reputation in the Delta playing with his friend James Cotton.

By the early fifties Hubert's reputation in the south reached his early idol Howlin' Wolf and Hubert was asked to join Wolf's band as a rhythm guitarist in 1954. He eventually took over lead guitar duties and recorded such classics as Smokestack Lightning and Forty Four Blues. He was one of the reasons for the rift between Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf for Chicago Blues supremacy when Waters' chauffeur showed up with a fistful of hundred dollar bills and "stole" Wolf's prized guitarist. He eventually rejoined Howlin' Wolf to record other classics in the early sixties like, Three Hundred Pounds of Joy and Killing Floor.

While on a tour with Wolf in England a young Jimi Hendrix sat in, played his guitar with his teeth and Hubert thought that he'd lost his job. He recorded with Eric Clapton during The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions in 1970. He remained in Howlin' Wolf's Band until Wolf died of cancer in 1976. Since then, he has recorded with three other Boston Blues Festival performers; Ronnie Earl, Mighty Sam McClain and Darrell Nulisch. His influence on Clapton, Vaughan and Earl are well documented. In fact, many of today's Blues and Rock guitarists licks are based on Hubert's distinctive style that he perfected while playing with Howlin' Wolf.

Photo courtesy of Well Records

Sam Taylor

Sam Taylor was born in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama. His path to music came from four generations of piano players, minstrel and gospel singers. He first picked up a guitar while in the Air Force and has been playing professionally since 1956. He has played with many through the years, including Big Joe Turner, Otis Redding, Albert Collins and Tracey Nelson. He has recorded on over a half dozen different imprints, including Capitol, Stax and Atlantic.

Taylor's greatest talent may be his songwriting prowess, some of which he gained fame from and some that went uncredited. Among those to record his songs are Son Seals, whose version of Mother Blues appears on his live Spontaneous Combustion recording on Alligator Records. Coco Montoya and Albert Collins also recorded tunes penned by Taylor. During the disco era he received a Gold Record for Do It Til You're Satisfied, recorded by B.T. Express in 1974. As Sam tells it, "I got the record, they kept the Gold!"

Disheartened from the unfair treatment he received from the recording industry, he reached the low point in his life when he moved to LA, gave up music and took up drugs. Open heart surgery caused a revelation and rehabilitation and he moved on to Tucson and returned to his musical career. He has lived in New York since the late 90s and resumed his recording with a new release titled Blue Tears. He has also written an autobiography, Caught in the Jaws of the Blues. In addition to sharing the music from the bandstand, Taylor was also a DJ on WUSB 90.1.

Taylor passed away on January 5, 2009 at age 74 from Heart disease .

 

Photo courtesy of McClain Management

Mighty Sam McClain

Sam McClain was born in Monroe Louisiana in 1943. Like many vocalists from the Bible Belt, his first exposure to music was gospel. He snuck out the window as a young teenager after he had endured one too many beatings from his stepfather. He became valet for Little Melvin Underwood and traveled throughout the south, learning the business first hand. Sam's first recording came in 1966 when he was living in Pensacola, Florida. He recorded Patsy Cline's Sweet Dreams.

Subsequent recordings at the famous Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama didn't garner him the fame or fortune that he sought and he fell on hard times. For a period of fifteen years Sam went from working low paying jobs in Nashville and New Orleans to living on the streets. He met the Neville Brothers in New Orleans and resurrected his career in the late 80s with a tour and live recording from Japan.

Sam moved to New England in the early 90s when he recorded with Hubert Sumlin on the Black Top release, Hubert Sumlin's Blues Party. He found a support system in the area and encouragement from Boston Blues musicians and his career started to flourish. He recorded five discs for Joe Harley's AudioQuest Label that propelled him to prominence. He also recorded for JVC and Telarc before once again striking out on his own, much like when he slid out the window so many years ago. He established his own Mighty Music Label in 2003 and released one of his strongest recordings to date, One More Bridge to Cross.

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2002 Recipients


Photo courtesy of Steve Piazza

Rosco Gordon

Rosco Gordon was born on April 10, 1934 in Memphis Tennessee. He recorded his first single at the legendary Sun Studios while still a teenager. Sam Phillips sold Rosco's first single, "Booted" to Chess Records and it was released in 1951. His second song, "No More Doggin'", reached number 3 on the charts, released on the Bihari Brother's RPM label.

Gordon was among the many, such as B.B. King and Rufus Thomas, to appear and perform on Memphis radio station WDIA. Dave Mattis of WDIA took some of the product, from recording sessions at the station, to a DJ convention in Chicago. Although unauthorized, he sold it to Houston's Don Robey, who owned the Peacock and Duke labels. Before he was 18 Rosco Gordon had hit records on three different labels!

In his early 20's he lived in Shreveport, LA and continued to tour behind the Duke/Peacock and Sun releases. He was touring with Jimmy McCracklin and finished writing a song that Jimmy had been working on. "Just a Little Bit" turned out to be his biggest hit and biggest trouble all at once. He recorded the demo for Cincinnati's King Records, but owner Ralph Bass said that he was uninterested in releasing it. Chicago's Vee-Jay label did release "Just a Little Bit' and it became a hit for Gordon and many others who covered it. Unfortunately, Bass had used the demo to copyright the song under his name! In 1990 Gordon finally received the rights to the song that he had written more than three decades earlier.

Gordon's downbeat boogie was mixed with calypso music in Jamaica and became the basis for a new Island music called ska. Laurel Aitken, referred to as Jamaica's "First Pop Star and the Godfather of Ska" admitted as much in a February 1999 interview. His music's popularity in Jamaica is yet another cultural achievement that Rosco Gordon is credited with, but didn't directly profit from.

Gordon married Barbara Kerr on February 9, 1961. Although he continued playing music, he stopped touring and was part owner of a New York dry cleaner to support his family. His wife died of cancer in 1984 and Rosco dedicated himself to his children. With his children grown, Gordon once again started performing and recording towards the century's end. (This bio information was taken from Denise Tapp's liner notes from the Rosco Gordon release, "Memphis Tennessee" on Stony Plain Records) .

 

Photo courtesy of Jesse Scinto

Big Jay McNeely

Big Jay McNeely is nothing short of a pioneer in American music. His honking sax style and wild showmanship mixed Blues, R&B and Jazz into a recipe for the origins of Rock & Roll. Born Cecil J. McNeely on April 29, 1927 in Watts California, he was influenced by Jazz players like Illinois Jacquet. McNeely began his recording career in 1948 on the Savoy imprint. In 1949 he had success with his instrumental, "Deacon's Hop", which went to number one on the Billboard R&B chart. Jazz purists were aghast and didn't receive his bold style too kindly.

McNeely also recorded for Imperial, Exclusive and King's Federal subsidiary. It was with the King label that he recorded the fast and furious "3-D", with his brother Bob blowing baritone lines in perfect harmony on the instrumental. He recorded his most famous song in 1958, released on the Swingin' label; "There is Something on Your Mind" became an enduring ballad. The original version featured Little Sonny Warner on vocals and made it to number five on the R&B chart and number forty four in the Pop category. The next year it was covered by Bobby Marchan from New Orleans and it was Jay's second song to top the charts. Since then, "There is Something on Your Mind" has been a heavily recorded song by artists as diverse as King Curtis, Etta James, Gene Vincent, B.B King and Conway Twitty.

In June 2000 Big Jay McNeely's famous fluorescent saxophone appeared on the cover of Smithsonian magazine, along with three other important musical artifacts; Jimi Hendrix's hat, Janis Joplin's boa and Eric Clapton's guitar. In November 2001 Big Jay McNeely received the Rhythm and Blues Foundations Pioneer Award in a ceremony and performance at New York's Apollo Theater.

 

Photo courtesy of Antone's Records

Lazy Lester

An originator of the Swamp Blues sound of the Louisiana Bayou, Lazy Lester was born Leslie Johnson on June 20, 1933 in Torras Louisiana. Like his Baton Rouge contemporary Raful Neal, Lester was inspired by harp great Little Walter. He started playing music early, sneaking time on his older brother's guitar when he wasn't home. Lester shared the stage as a young man with Slim Harpo, who later would be a label mate on Nashville's Excello label.

While riding a bus, Lester was excited to meet a Bluesman that he admired who was searching for Wild Bill Phillips to record with. That man was Lightnin' Slim. Lester convinced him that he could play better harmonica and Slim gave him the opportunity. From that point on when Lightnin' Slim uttered his signature, "play your harmonica son"; he was referring to Lazy Lester. He became a mainstay at producer

J.D. Miller's Crowley Louisiana recording studio and by the mid-50's he was cutting his own material, which was released on Excello. Some of his hits from that era include, "Sugar Coated Love", "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter" and "I Hear You Knockin'."

Lester was out of the recording business for almost two decades, but could be seen playing on the streets of Chicago, until he decided to move back down south because of the cold. Fred Reif talked him into moving to Detroit and resuming his musical career. He has since released recordings for Alligator in 1988, "Harp and Soul" and two recent recordings on Antone's Records. "All Over You came out in 1998 and "Blues Stop Knockin'", with Jimmie Vaughan on guitar, in 2001.

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2001 Recipients


Shirley Lewis

Shirley Lewis

 

Photo courtesy of Art Simas

Shirley Lewis was born in Sicklerville, New Jersey on February 25, 1937. She performed professionally since early childhood with her father and brothers as the Lewis Gospel Singers. She sang throughout her youth and after high school became an accountant, singing in church on the weekends. The music won out over the numbers and she traveled to Las Vegas, San Francisco and ended up in Vancouver British Columbia in 1972. She sang in a show at Isy's Supperclub in a revue called, "Black is Beautiful." She then held a residency at club New Delhi for a four year run. Shirley continued her mutual love affair with Canada, touring throughout the country until 1985.

Lewis moved back to the states to be closer to her family in themid-80s, settling in the Boston area. She has been a Boston based singer since that time, recording and touring all along. Shirley Lewis is a gifted vocalist who sings from the heart, like many of her fellow Jersey and Philadelphia R&B singers. The is more concerned with the feel of her performance than the technicality of it. That's a tradition that goes back a long way. Some of today's music students can take a lesson from that approach.

Chick Willis

Photo courtesy of Chick Willis
Chick Willis

Robert (Chick) Willis was born in the rural Georgia town of Cabiness in 1934. His family moved to Atlanta when he was six. Family gatherings were always accompanied by music, mostly gospel. He taught himself guitar and by his teens started playing for a living at the Old Royal Peacock Club. He backed and played on bills with such talent as Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Big Joe Turner.

After a stint in the military, Chick joined with his cousin Chuck Willis in 1954. Known as the "King of Stroll", Chuck was a successful recording artist for Okeh. With his cousin, Chick was performing mostly as a singer. His first release was recorded in 1956 for the Los Angeles label Ebb Records, owned by Lee Rupe. After his cousin's death from stomach cancer in 1958, Chick traveled to Chicago and played with slide specialist Elmore James.

Citing the flamboyant Guitar Slim as an influence, he honed his stage antics with his cousin's show and later with Rudy Ray Moore. It was at this time that the ribald flavor of his performances started to emerge. In the early 70's he recorded his signature tune, "Stoop Down Baby", released on the La Val imprint from Kalamazoo, Michigan. The James Montgomery Band and more recently, Poppa Chubby have covered this song. He is still known today as the "Stoop Down Man".

A series of releases on Atlanta's Ichiban Records followed in the 80's and 90's. Continuing with his risqué tunes, his 1988 song, "I Want A Big Fat Woman", was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award. In 2001 Chick released, "From the Heart and Soul" on Rock House Records. His interest to see the Blues survive and flourish caused him to be an integral member of the Middle Georgia Blues Society, to open "Chick's Music Park" and to present the "Stoop Down Music Festival" in the fall of 2000. Willis' humorous approach to the music, as a way to let people forget hard times, heartache and misery, is a musical achievement towards healing.

Photo courtesy of APO

Jimmie Lee Robinson

Born in Chicago on April 30 1931, Jimmie Lee Robinson came of age in the heyday of Chicago Blues. All the legends like Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Nighthawk had made their way up from the Delta and were playing the open-air market on Maxwell Street, not far from Robinson's home. He befriended a musician outside the local welfare office in 1952 and teamed up with Freddy King for the next four years. After that, he played guitar and bass on sessions with Little Walter, Shakey Jake and Eddie Taylor. He also worked with Howlin' Wolf, St. Louis Jimmy Oden and Elmore James.

Robinson recorded two songs in the late 50's for Bandera that have become the title tracks of more recent releases. "Lonely Traveler" was the title track for his 1994 Delmark recording and "All My Life", which is the title of his most recent release on APO Records. British Blues Rocker John Mayall once covered Robinson's "All My Life", perhaps influenced in the 60's when Robinson toured Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival with fellow musicians Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy.

Like many musicians who play Blues, when it's popularity waned in the 70's he took various other jobs, driving a cab and working as a security guard. His resurgence on the scene in the last decade is a welcome blessing and a return to solid straightforward Blues, among the flashy over the top musicians trying to get noticed. His dedication to the music and its roots has been demonstrated by his protest of the destruction of Chicago's famed Maxwell Street, said to be the birthplace of Chicago blues and the neighborhood where Jimmie Lee grew up. He fasted for 81 straight days to protest the demolition of what many Blues lovers feel is a hallowed historical landmark, which should be preserved.

On Robinson's latest release on APO, Jimmy D. Lane, the son of legendary Bluesman Jimmy Rogers joins him on guitar. Madison Slim, who toured with Rogers, guests on harmonica on the disc. The title of his previous APO release, "Remember Me", is a poignant reminder that true talents, such as The Lonely Traveler Jimmie Lee Robinson, should indeed be remembered and recognized as legends of American music.

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2000 Recipients

Weepin' Willie

Weepin' Willie

 

Photo by Laurie Hoffma

William Lorenzo Robinson, better known as "Weepin' Willie," was born in Atlanta, Georgia, July 6, 1926. He spent his youth picking fruit up and down the East Coast with his family, the only work available during the hard Depression years. After a stint in the Army, he landed in Trenton, NJ. He went to work on a Trenton farm milking cows, picking potatoes and driving a truck. After a year or so, he moved into the city and became a dishwasher.

Willie met a friend who booked bands in Trenton, and he started working as master of ceremonies in a nightclub. Eventually, he was called upon to open the shows, emceeing for and getting a chance to mingle with the likes of B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, and many of the other R&B greats touring in the 50s.

After moving to Boston, he continued to make his living working in, and handling emcee chores at such legendary long-gone venues as the Sugar Shack in Boston, while putting a band together in his spare time. It was during this time that he met up with saxophonist Emmett Simmons, who joined his band in 1964. A long association with local favorite, bassist and vocalist, Buddy Johnson, came to a sad end with Johnson's passing in 1998. The band was known for several years as the Weepin' Willie/Buddy Johnson band.

Now 74 years old, Willie's first CD "At Last, On Time", was released in 1999. It is on the Acoustic Sounds (APO Records) label and features guest appearances by Mighty Sam McClain (who also produced), and rising star Susan Tedeschi.

Weepin' Willie's congenial nature and helping hand have inspired other local Bostonians such as 1999 Blues Trust Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Toni Lynn Washington, who records for Tone Cool Records. Another notable musician who found tutelage in his All-Star Blues Band is Bullseye Blues artist Sax Gordon. His recognition as an artist, who has contributed to the careers of musicians and quality of life in the Boston community is deserved and overdue.

Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater

Photo by Peter Cahill
Eddy
"The Chief" Clearwater

Eddy Clearwater (born Eddie Harrington) January 10, 1935 in Macon, MS. At age 13, his family moved to Birmingham, AL where Eddy began playing guitar, backing various gospel groups including "The Five Blind Boys of Alabama."

At age 15, Eddy left Birmingham Alabama for Chicago's West Side in September 1950. Following in the footsteps of other West Side guitarists like Magic Sam, Otis Rush and the late Luther Allison, he has taken his rightful place as one of Chicago's great blues guitarists. Eddy Harrington was given the name "Clearwater", by blues drummer/agent Jump Jackson, because of his clean sound and as twist to McKinley Morganfield's Muddy Waters moniker. He is referred to as "The Chief" because of his wild show antics, which include wearing Native American headdress onstage.

Performing as Guitar Eddy, he was given his first recording opportunity by his Uncle, the Reverend Houston H. Harrington, on his Atomic-H label. While in Chicago he also came across another relative, who came to town in 1956 with his godfather, pianist Lovie Lee, a young and developing musician by the name of Carey Bell (Harrington). They recorded together on the 1980 release on Rooster Blues, "The Chief", along with Carey's son Lurrie Bell.

In 1997 Clearwater underwent triple bypass heart surgery, which was the inspiration for his song "Very Good Condition". This is welcome news to all fans of the 65 year-old West Side southpaw. Besides releases on the aforementioned Atomic-H and Rooster, Clearwater has also released recordings for Delmark, Blind Pig, Evidence, Wolf and Baron Records. Following up his last two releases on Bullseye Blues and Jazz, will be another recording for the Cambridge based label, which is due for a fall 2000 release. Duke Robillard is once again producing the latest release.

Billy Boy Arnold

 

Billy Boy Arnold

Billy Boy Arnold was born in Chicago on September 16, 1935. He sought out the first Sonny Boy, John Lee Williamson while he was a teenager and learned a little from him before his tragic and violent death. Other musical influences include Little Walter, and Earl Hooker. Arnold first recorded at 17 for the Cool label where he was billed as Billy Boy, without his consent. Whether he liked it or not, the name stuck. Later he was paired with a young electronics repairman named Bo Diddley, who fashioned an amplifier for Billy Boy out of an orange crate. In 1955, with Billy Boy playing harmonica, Diddley recorded his first tune for the for the Chess brothers on their Checker label with Bo Diddley/I'm A Man. When Arnold had a falling out with Leonard Chess, Diddley told Arnold that Leonard didn't like him, he jumped to the Vee-Jay label. He recorded his most famous songs, "I Wish You Would" and "I Ain't Got You" for the label.

Arnold looked to more secure employment after the golden era of Chicago blues died down, working as a bus driver and parole officer. In the mid 60's his earlier sides for Vee-Jay inspired some of the British invasion bands. The Yardbirds and The Animals each had hits with Billy Boy's songs. This sparked interest in Europe where he toured consistently. Later, The Blasters and David Bowie both covered his music. His resurgence continued through the mid 90's with two discs for Alligator. He continues to record, with a forthcoming disc on Canada's Stony Plain label, produced by Duke Robillard.

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1999 Recipients


Photo by Rick Sarni

 

Smokey Wilson

Born Robert Lee Wilson in Glen Allen Mississippi, he moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and opened the Pioneer Club in Watts. Besides appearances by established West Coast stars like Percy Mayfield and Pee Wee Crayton, he helped launch the careers of William Clarke and Rod Piazza. Wilson is a self-taught guitarist with a unique fingerpicking style and gravely voice reminiscent of one of his biggest influences, Howlin' Wolf. He appeared in the documentary, "Three Generations of Blues" along with John Lee Hooker and Robert Cray. He has recorded for Big Town, Murray Brothers (re-issued on Blind Pig) and Bullseye.

 

 

Toni Lynn Washington
Photo by Rick Sarni

Toni Lynn Washington

A native of Southern Pines, North Carolina Toni Lynn was introduced to music by her mother Virginia Washington, singing in gospel choirs as a child. Her lifetime in music includes stops in Florida and Los Angeles. During the Vietnam War she spent time as a USO entertainer. She also sang in a band called Sister's Love, which included three members of Ray Charles' Raelettes. Since 1992 she has had her own Boston based band. Besides multiple appearances at the Boston Blues Festival the Toni Lynn Washington Band has been a featured act at the Chicago Blues festival and at the Hotel Meridien in Paris. They have three recordings on Tone Cool Records.

Brewer PhillipsBrewer Phillips

Along with bandmates Hound Dog Taylor and Ted Harvey, the Houserockers were the first band to record for Chicago's Alligator Records. Born on a plantation in Coila Mississippi he learned guitar from Memphis Minnie. Before moving to Chicago, he worked in Memphis recording with pianist Roosevelt Sykes. Phillips had the unusual role in the Houserockers of alternating between basslines, rhythm and lead in a band with no bass player. Since Hound Dog Taylor's death in 1975 he had worked with Lil' Ed, J.B. Hutto and Cub Koda. Brewer died three weeks before his scheduled appearance at the Boston Blues Festival. His Lifetime Achievement Award was presented posthumously and was donated to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale Mississippi. He has three solo recordings, "Good Houserockin'" on Wolf Records, "Homebrew" on Delmark and "Well Alright" on Black Rose Records.

Photo courtesy of Ron Bartolucci

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1998 Recipients


 

Honeyboy Edwards
Photo by Peter Cahill

Honeyboy Edwards

On September 25, 1998 Blues Trust Productions recognized David Honeyboy Edwards and Howard Armstrong for their lifelong contributions to American Music. The award ceremony took place in front of students at Boston's world renown Berklee College of Music. The afternoon concluded with an acoustic performance by Honeyboy Edwards and Rick Sherry.

Honeyboy Edwards, Born David Edwards on June 28, 1915 in Shaw Mississippi. While still in his early teens he toured around the South with Big Joe Williams who taught him where to play and what days the levee camp workers were paid. Played solo and with Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson in the mid-1930's. He recorded for Alan Lomax's Library of Congress recordings in 1942 in Clarksdale. In the late 1940's he moved first to Helena and then to Memphis, playing with Little Walter Jacobs, Sunnyland Slim, Howlin' Wolf, Big Walter Horton and Floyd Jones. Honeyboy was married in the early 1950's and moved to Chicago where he still lives today. His recordings can be found on the following labels: Roots, Flyright, Trix, Adelphi, Testament, Blues Classics, Wolf, Folkways and Earwig. His autobiography, "THE WORLD DON'T OWE ME NOTHING", won the 1998 W.C. Handy Award for blues literature.

 

Howard Armstrong
Photo by Peter Cahill

Howard Armstrong

Born in Dayton Tennessee in 1909, played for many years with Carl Martin and Ted Bogan in the African American string band format. Playing medicine shows and country jukes throughout the South, Martin Bogan and Armstrong relocated to Chicago in the late '30s. A recipient of a National Heritage Award in 1990, Armstrong is equally adept at swing, ragtime and pop as well as blues. Currently living in Boston he is an accomplished painter and sculptor who speaks seven languages.

 

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