Dave Pell's Prez Conference was to Lester Young what Supersax is to Charlie Parker. Pell's short-lived group featured harmonized Lester Young solos recreated by three tenors and a baritone; their matchup with singer Joe Williams is quite enjoyable. Since Young was in Count Basie's orchestra when Jimmy Rushing was the vocalist, Joe Williams has a rare opportunity to give his own interpretation to Rushing and Billie Holiday classics like "I May Be Wrong," "You Can Depend on Me," "If Dreams Come True" and "Easy Living." A delightful and swinging date.
Joe Williams' debut as the featured vocalist in Count Basie's band was one of those landmark moments that even savvy observers don't fully appreciate when it occurs, then realize years later how momentous an event they witnessed. Williams brought a different presence to the great Basie orchestra than the one Jimmy Rushing provided; he couldn't shout like Rushing, but he was more effective on romantic and sentimental material, while he was almost as spectacular on surging blues, up-tempo wailers, and stomping standards. Basie's band maintained an incredible groove behind Williams, who moved from authoritative statements on "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "Please Send Me Someone to Love" to brisk workouts on "Roll 'Em Pete" and his definitive hit, "All Right, OK, You Win".
…Williams left behind several folk club recordings from the early '60s, and they make a good contrast to the vast body of studio recordings from the same era. He was evidently at his best playing directly to an audience.
Classic Delta Blues collects 12 cuts Big Joe Williams cut in 1964. For these recordings, he played a standard six-string guitars instead of hauling out his custom nine-string and the effects are pleasant, but not revelatory.–by Thom Owens
A CD reissue of 1958 recordings, it includes four previously unreleased tracks. This is raw but beautiful country-blues, featuring the otherworldly sound of Big Joe's nine-string guitar.
Big Joe Williams may have been the most cantankerous human being who ever walked the earth with guitar in hand. At the same time, he was an incredible blues musician: a gifted songwriter, a powerhouse vocalist, and an exceptional idiosyncratic guitarist. Despite his deserved reputation as a fighter (documented in Michael Bloomfield's bizarre booklet Me and Big Joe), artists who knew him well treated him as a respected elder statesman. Even so, they may not have chosen to play with him, because — as with other older Delta artists — if you played with him you played by his rules.