Happy Birthday “Big” Bill Broonzy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biography

 

” Big Bill Broonzy was born William Lee Conley Broonzy in the tiny town of Scott, Mississippi, just across the river from Arkansas. During his childhood, Broonzy‘s family — itinerant sharecroppers and the descendants of ex-slaves — moved to Pine Bluff to work the fields there. Broonzy learned to play a cigar box fiddle from his uncle, and as a teenager, he played violin in local churches, at community dances, and in a country string band. During World War I, Broonzy enlisted in the U.S. Army, and in 1920 he moved to Chicago and worked in the factories for several years. In 1924 he met Papa Charlie Jackson, a New Orleans native and pioneer blues recording artist for Paramount. Jackson took Broonzy under his wing, taught him guitar, and used him as an accompanist. Broonzy‘s entire first session at Paramount in 1926 was rejected, but he returned in November 1927 and succeeded in getting his first record, House Rent Stomp, onto Paramount wax. As one of his early records came out with the garbled moniker of Big Bill Broomsley, he decided to shorten his recording name to Big Bill, and this served as his handle on records until after the second World War. Among aliases used for Big Bill on his early releases were Big Bill Johnson, Sammy Sampson, and Slim Hunter.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

” Broonzy‘s earliest records do not demonstrate real promise, but this would soon change. In 1930, the Hokum Boys broke up, and Georgia Tom Dorsey decided to keep the act going by bringing in Big Bill and guitarist Frank Brasswell to replace Tampa Red, billing themselves as “the Famous Hokum Boys.” With Georgia Tom and Brasswell, Broonzy hit his stride and penned his first great blues original, “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” This was a hit and helped make his name with record companies. Although only half-a-dozen blues artists made any records during 1932, the worst year in the history of the record business, one of them was Big Bill, who made 20 issued sides that year.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

” Through Georgia Tom and Tampa Red, Big Bill met Memphis Minnie and toured as her second guitarist in the early ’30s, but apparently did not record with her. When he did resume recording in March 1934 it was for Bluebird’s newly established Chicago studio under the direction of Lester Melrose. Melrose liked Broonzy‘s style, and before long, Big Bill would begin working as Melrose‘s unofficial second-in-command, auditioning artists, matching numbers to performers, booking sessions, and providing backup support to other musicians. He played on literally hundreds of records for Bluebird in the late ’30s and into the ’40s, including those made by his half-brother, Washboard Sam,Peter Chatman (aka Memphis Slim), John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, and others. With Melrose,Broonzy helped develop the “Bluebird beat,” connoting a type of popular blues record that incorporated trap drums and upright string bass. This was the precursor of the “Maxwell Street sound” or “postwar Chicago blues,” and helped to redefine the music in a format that would prove popular in the cities. Ironically, while Broonzy was doing all this work for Melrose at Bluebird, his own recordings as singer were primarily made for ARC, and later Columbia’s subsidiary Okeh. This was his greatest period, and during this time Broonzy wrote and recorded such songs as “Key to the Highway,” “W.P.A. Blues,” “All by Myself,” and “Unemployment Stomp.” For other artists, Broonzy wrote songs such as “Diggin’ My Potatoes.” All told, Big Bill Broonzy had a hand in creating more than 100 original songs.”Continue reading

 

 

 

Discography

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