Joe and I got along well that night, and as he packed his guitar away after his last set he invited me to visit him sometime. He was living in the basement of a record store on Chicago’s Near North Side, and I dropped in to see him often. The store specialized n blues and was run by a very odd guy named Kaercher. Along with the sotore he owned a record company, and though I was never sure he knew a good recordd from a bad one, he was straight with the musicians he recorded and had a real reverence for their art and skill. But Joe and he would have many fights, sometimes due to Kaerscher’s obtuse nature, and at other times to Joe’s drinking. Joe would get a few beers or a little hard liquor in him (peppermint Schnapps and Gordon’s gin were his choices) and suddenly you wouldn’t be dealing witha normal man–he couldn’t talk coherently and nothing would make sense to him.
Joe, from his travels, knew blues singers from all over the country, and when he suggested that we make some field trips I was quick to agree. The first jaunt we took was to Milwaukee so I could sit in with SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON. Now, this Sonny Boy thing can be confusing. The original Sonny Boy’s name was John Lee Williamson. He was a big star for Bluebird Records and recorded many songs that Joe liked to sing, such as Decoration Day Blues, I Can Hear My Black Name Ringing, and Katie Mae. The second Sonny Boy Williamson’s name was Rice Miller. He was a much older man than the original Sonny boy, and had been recording even longer, but he didn’t become famous until after the original Sonny Boy died–stabbed by a woman in his Chicago doorway.
Big Joe was getting drunk at a table with some older, heavy-set women. After Sonny boy’s last set he came up to me and said, “Michael, there’s some real fine leg sittin’ here.” Now, besides being of advanced years, these women had a combined weight of several tons, and didn’t fit my idea of good leg at all. But as an inducement to stick around and amybe go hme with one or two of these women, Joe said, “These ladies have their womanhoods way up high on their bellies.” Considering their weight, I could see how that might be true, but I told him, “Joe, I don’t believe this is something I want to get into–I think we’d best head back to Chicago.” Joe got pretty irascible at this, but finally agreed to go, and we made it on home all right.
I can’t recommend Me and Big Joe highly enough. It is a beautifully realized American miniature–nearly as scary as Melville’s white whale, fully as grotesque and funny as a Fellini dreamscape and as exhilarating as Bloomfield’s best solo.”
–David Armstrong, American Journal