HEY LOCO FANS – Happy birthday to blues guitarist and juke joint legend Willie King who was born on this day back in 1943.
King was born in Prairie Point, Mississippi near the Alabama border. He worked as a sharecropper, moonshine maker and traveling salesman; just a few of his many occupations. Later he became active with the civil rights movement, 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. 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, which is immortalized in one of his songs called “Betty’s Place”. He described his music as “struggling blues” because of its focus on the “injustices in life in the rural South”.
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.
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 King’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.