Recorded “live” in the studio, this juke joint jump-jiving CD contains a mixture of King’s original songs and old classics.
For those who may not know about Willie King, his last CD "Jukin’ at Bettie’s" was nominated for “Traditional Album of the Year,” as was his CD before that. Willie himself was nominated for “Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year” in the Blues Foundation’s prestigious 2006 Blues Music Awards. Willie King has also been recognized by the House of Blues as one of their select group of “Artists to Watch.”
This home-grown production features the same team that created his last outstanding CD, "Jukin’ At Bettie’s" – co-produced by Willie King and Rick Asherson, his harmonica/keyboard player from London, England and recorded and engineered again by sound magician Sam Watson. All the songs were recorded in one take with minimal editing to preserve the spirit of improvisation and aliveness that infuses all of King’s music. The CD features five original songs, including the eponymous “One Love,” an upbeat blues prayer celebrating the interconnectedness of humanity and the world, and “Writing In the Sky (Katrina)” an insightful John Lee Hooker styled journey into the meaning of hurricane Katrina. Also featured are three traditional blues songs included by the popular demand of his fans!
WILLIE KING DISCUSSES EACH OF THE SONGS
Sweet Potato Man – “I was inspired to write this song by Taj Mahal who named me the “Sweet Potato Man” at a gig we did together and the name has stuck. My nickname used to be “the Pea Picker” but now I am “the Sweet Potato man!” The song really has lots of different meanings. Double meanings about love but also it sums up my philosophy and how I want for everyone to work together for everyone’s good. It represents poor and working people helping each other like they did in the old days. Trying to do your neighborhood some good by working together.”
I like it Like that – “When I see all walks of life coming together, all cultures, it makes me so feel good – that’s why I say “I like it like that!” Music can make people mix and mingle, lift them up, make them want to dance. When I see no one discriminating and the spirit of the music bringing people together – like I wish the whole world would come together – I sure like it like that.”
Ride Sally Ride – “This is based on an old ring game, as children’s we used to play, like tag or hide and go seek. We used to get together and play it out in the cotton or the cornfields or around the house. It was a chance for boys and girls to get together and meet your future husband or wife. We would play hide and go seek and then the boys and girls would get in a circle and everyone would hold hands. Whoever would get found first would end up being the one be in the middle of the ring. Everyone would shake to the east and west and the one that they loved the best would end up being their partner! People love this song because it reminds them of the old days and the old ways. Back in the old days marriage was a big deal and it was harder for young people to get together to know each other and these games were a way to get together and get to know each other and pick their mate. I still use it to bring people together and get them to shake it to the east and west!”
Holding The Line – “This song is about the struggles of life. The message in the song was one my grandfather used to use - don’t ever worry, just keep holding the line even if the mule goes blind. Don’t let anything stand in your way. People might be trying to hold you down, discriminate against you, throw obstacles in your life - no matter what people say about you, don’t worry. Keep being yourself and keep doing the right thing, keep control, keep doing what you are doing. My grandfather was a big influence on me and a lot of other people on the plantation. He inspired a lot of people to keep on pushing and not give up.”
Writing in the Sky – “Katrina was handwriting in the sky and was a heavy sign for mankind. Brought turmoil on the earth. I was talking to a friend, Franklin Williams, and about how Katrina took the same path as the slave ships from Africa. All the places where we were bought and sold are places Katrina passed through and we felt it all seemed like from Africa. Katrina was shedding light on the injustices done to African American people who are still left out of being a part of America. The rich and the powerful were so slow to react and do anything to help – it is a sign the rich and the powerful are still not doing right and the poor are suffering and left behind. Heaven is not satisfied and people need to change and start loving and caring for each other like we have been told from the days of old.”
Spoonful – “A great inspiration to me is Chester Burnett, the Howlin’ Wolf. In my younger days, going through my own struggles and turmoil, he helped me through. His music helped me to keep on pushing. I am still moving out on that. It is about how crazy people can be when you get addicted, and you can get addicted to anything, sex, drugs or alcohol. The rich can get addicted to wealth and forget about the poor. I did this song in appreciation of the Wolf’s contribution and how he helped inspire myself and many other people through his music.”
Mamaluchi – “I heard this song back when I was nine years old by a bluesman who played an acoustic guitar - I just knew him as Buster. He was from around Macon [Mississippi] but would come and play here in Alabama a lot. Used to play in my grandmother’s house parties and they were really good old friends. He’s the only blues player I ever heard play it but my granddaddy used to sing it too. It’s a traditional one all about how when you really love someone and really care about each other and don’t want to be apart for a very long time . . . Got to go get her right now . . . go anywhere if I have to crawl or walk.”
One Love – “I had the opportunity to go, with some persuasion, and get on a plane and play in France at the Cognac Blues Festival. It was a big deal for me to make the trip. It made me feel good that while I was there I ran into this French guy and we engaged in a conversation about human beings, we got to talking about the facts of life and we talked about race. He said if you cut us open we all look the same on the inside. He said he believed in one love, one spirit and one power that we all come out of. Ain’t but one love, one soul and one water – no matter what people call it - that is the ruler of the trees and brings us all on the earth. The rich or poor, black or white, we are all the same, all human beings and should love and respect each other. How happy we would be if we could all love and care for each other.”
Mama Killed a Chicken – “This is another traditional song that I do my thing to. It has lots of meanings. It is a code for parents cause they didn’t want the children to know what they were talking about. It is about poor people trying to survive. Mama was trying to make ends meet and she would pretend it was a chicken she was killing when all the time it was a duck. People love this song at my shows. It’s a thing I often do at the end and it is guaranteed to get people to dancing and feeling good, and thinking about trying love for a change. The song is silly too and it lifts sprits makes them laugh and at the same time it tells the truth and has double meanings all rolled up into one song. I call it a gumbo soup that’s good for the soul.”
WILLIE KING BIOGRAPHY
(This following biography of Willie King is based on the excellent account by Richard J. Skelly at the All Music Guide)
While he's only come to a national audience in recent years, Alabama-based bluesman Willie King sets himself apart from many of today's modern bluesmen and blueswomen by his insistence on addressing topical and political issues in his songwriting. But in reality, the blues has a long tradition of protest songs or other songs written to bring about societal change. King's 2001 debut for the Rooster Blues label, Freedom Creek, with his band, the Liberators, opens with "Second Coming," a song about the immortal nature of the spirit, and invokes civil rights activists John Brown and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., certainly great spirits whose thoughts and deeds live on in America and around the world. Other topical and political songs on King's Rooster Blues debut include "Pickens County Payback," "Stand Up and Speak the Truth," and "Clean Up the Ghetto.” An earlier album, 1999's I Am the Blues, was released through a group he is a part of, the Rural Members Association.
A guitarist and singer/songwriter, King was born in Prairie Point, MS, on March 8, 1943. His grandparents and local sharecroppers raised King and his siblings after his mother and father separated when he was two. Fortunately, King was raised in a music-filled household, as his grandfather was a fan of both gospel and blues music. A young Willie King made his own didley-bo, a one-stringed instrument, by nailing a bailing wire to a tree in his yard. He began playing that and eventually progressed to guitar, when his plantation owner, W.P. Morgan, brought him his first guitar, an acoustic Gibson, when he was 13 years old. King paid off the $60 price tag for the guitar by working on the plantation and feeding the plantation's cows in the morning. He made his professional debut at a house party in Mississippi, playing all night for two dollars. King focused his efforts on learning more tunes and expanded his repertoire to include tunes by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, and John Lee Hooker.
In 1967, King moved to Chicago and spent a year trying to find secure work in that city's south and west sides. He returned to Old Memphis, AL, and began working as a salesman, traveling rural roads, peddling his goods, and talking politics with mostly poor, rural Alabama residents. King got involved in the civil rights movement and with the left-wing Highlander Center. Throughout the 1970s, King continued to write blues songs inspired by the civil rights activism of performers like Josh White, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, the Freedom Singers, and Pete Seeger. King calls his political songs "struggling songs," and in reality, they are political tunes used to educate his audiences. As he explains in his biography accompanying Freedom Creek, "Through the music, I could reach more people, get them to listen.”
King’s first CD was an outstanding, self-produced album released in May 2000 and titled I Am The Blues. Recorded with funds unexpectedly donated by a London doctor, and with the assistance of the Alabama Blues Project, this CD has become know all over the world and gained many admirers of King’s raw, juke-ready grooves and articulate commentaries.
In 1987, Rooster Blues founder Jim O'Neal was blown away by King and his band at a festival in Eutaw, Alabama. O'Neal was attracted to King's juke-joint guitar stylings, raw vocals, and political lyrics. The pair kept in touch during the next 13 years, and when O'Neal relocated his label to Memphis from Chicago, the two hooked up to record Freedom Creek, which was released in October 2000. King's Freedom Creek album was recorded on location at Bettie's Place in Prairie Point, MS. The success of the album brought about a follow-up, Living in a New World, released in 2002, with liner notes penned by poet, blues scholar, political activist, and former MC5 manager John Sinclair, who was then based in New Orleans.
The next CD release in January 2004 was also recorded live at Bettie’s Place, where Willie continues to perform most Sunday nights to an enthusiastic audience of local residents and visiting pilgrims. Titled Jukin’ At Bettie’s, this CD garnered a Blues Music Award for “Traditional Album of the Year,” as did the previous CD Living in a New World.
If there's any justice in this world, in coming years this prolific songwriter and powerful singer and guitar player should continue to be well recorded. King and his Liberators are a vital part of a long tradition of social and civil activism in the blues form. King's raw guitar sound and soulful vocals and his band's simple yet complex message songs need to be brought to more festivals like the Chicago Blues Festival, the San Francisco Blues Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and other festivals of international prominence.