Big Joe Williams and Bob Dylan

Big Joe Williams and Bob Dylan

From article “Big Joe Williams – Memory of the Road”” in the March/April issue of Blues Revue magazine:

“A very young Bob Dylan had been similarly impressed with Williams’ performances and begana kind of musical partnership with Williams when Big Joe was booked in the fall of 1961 by [Bob] Koester [founder of Delmark Records], at Gerde’s Folk City in New York City. Joe performed regularly during a two week period with Dylan frequently sitting in. They were billed as Big Joe and Little Joe, or Joe Junior. Len Kunstadt was subsequently talked into letting Dylan play for some of Williams’ studio sessions by his wife, Victoria Spivey. These sides were later released on an album featuring tracks by Victoria, Lonnie Johnson, and Roosevelt Sykes entitled _Three Kings and a Queen_. Dulan played harp behind Williams driving guitar and raspy vocals on “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Wichita”.


Alternative Video :


From: Miss Information 
Subject: Re: Who Williams, Big Joe

Williams, Big Joe

Dorwin Black at 
Date: Thu, 01 Jan 2004 04:51:35 GMT

A few days ago, I bought the recent Big Joe Williams reissue on
Delmark, "I Got Wild" (Delmark 767).  The music is fantastic, and I
highly recommend it to blues fans in the group; but I was surprised to
read the following in the liner notes by Robert Koester:

"[Big Joe Williams] first session for Delmark was improptu (still
unissued), recorded at Jackovac's tavern.  Erwin Helfer, on his way
from college in New Orleans, played piano.  In the fall of '57, Big
Joe looked up Erwin in Chicago who booked a recording session for
Cobra Records and a night at the College of Complexes where Bob Dylan
befriended Joe."

It's been a while since I read any of the biographies, but I don't
remember anything about this in them.  Bob would only have been 16 at
the time.  Maybe his memory is off by a few years?  Was Bob Dylan ever
in Chicago in 1957?

I pulled my copy of Shelton's biography off the shelf, and found that
Bob and Big Joe have told varying stories of how they initially met.
Here is the relevant excerpt from Shelton (p.170 -171)

"When Mike Porco considered booking Big Joe at Folk City in early
1962, Dylan Hyped him: "He's the greatest old bluesman.  You gotta put
him in here."  Mike did, for three weeks in February.  Dylan showed up
nearly every night, jammed with Big Joe onstage several times

"Years later, Big Joe gave me an interview. Big Joe maintains he met
Dylan in Chicago when Bob was only six!  (Bob probably met Joe in
Chicago in 1960 on his way east.)  The matter is further obfuscated by
Dylan's saying in 1962 that he had run off to Chicago when he was ten:
"I saw a Negro musician playing his guitar on the street and I went up
to him and began accompanying him on the spoons.  I used to play the
spoons when I was little."

Complementing Dylan's story, Big Joe reconstructed the trip:

"I first met Bob about 1946 or 1947, in Chicago.  I disremember the
exact year, but he was very very young, probably no more than six.  He
looked the same that he looks now.  I think he was just born with that
talent.  He used to get up on his tiptoes and was cracking wise just
the way he do now.

Well, I was just working on the streets of Chicago then, the way I had
done since 1927.  Somehow or other he knew songs I had made on
records, like 'Baby, Please Don't Go' and 'Highway Forty-Nine.'  He
met me on the North Side, around State and Grand, and we just walked
down to State and Thirty-Fifth Street. I was working, singing, all the
way along.  If we came up to some cabaret where he couldn't get in
because he was too young, I would just leave him outside on the
curbstone.  It must have taken us about three hours to make that trip.
Bob was asking me all sorts of questions. He said that he was going to
do this sort of thing one of these days, and I said that he would,
because he had a lot of talent."

A very young Bob Dylan with Big Joe Williams (seated) 1962
A very young Bob Dylan with Big Joe Williams (seated) 1962
It's impossible to believe that a six year old Robert Zimmerman ran
into Big Joe while wandering the streets of Chicago by himself, and
proceeded to "ask him all kinds of questions".

Big Joe's account would be somewhat believable if the actual timeframe
were 1957, although I thought Bob was more into rock and roll than the
blues at that stage in his life.  In 1957, Dylan and his friends would
have been able to drive, and could have taken a roadtrip to Chicago
some weekend.  So maybe Robert Koester's claim of a 1957 meeting is
plausible.  I wonder if Bob will have anything to say about this in
'Chronicles'. ;-)


Cover of Big Joe Williams. … Bob Dylan, Baby Please Don’t Go




– Mink Coat Blues
– Burned Child Is Scared Of Fire
– Baby, I Ain’t Gonna Let You Go
– Trouble Gonna Take Me To My Grave
– Bugle Blues
– Just Wanna Be Your Man

– I’m Gonna Do It This Time
– She’s Doggin’ Me
– How Do You Wnat Your Tollin’ Done
– I Can’t Sign My Name
– Bottle Up And Go
– I’m Tired Woman


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