If you don't live it you don't have it . . .
Young people have forgotten to cry the blues.
Now they talk and get lawyers and things."
- Big Bill Broonzy
William Lee Conley "Big Bill" Broonzy was born June 26th, 1893 in Scott, Mississippi. His parents, sharecroppers, had been born into slavery. One of seventeen children, his family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas while he was still young.
His first introduction to music was the fiddle his uncle Jerry Belcher made out of a cigar box and taught Bill how to play. Bill was working the fields during the day and playing fiddle at dances in the evenings and at church on Sundays.
After a two year stint in the army, Broonzy returned to Arkansas where he worked several jobs during the week and played at the clubs around Little Rock on weekends.
Sometime around 1924, he moved to Chicago where he learned to play the guitar and became one of the central figures in the Chicago blues scene. His biggest gig yet, on December 23rd, 1938, "Big Bill" was one of the principal solo performers in the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert held at the Carnegie Hall in New York City. He was a stand-in for Robert Johnson, who had been murdered just the week before.
Upon his return to Chicago, Big Bill Broonzy was finding gigs harder to come by. His acoustic country blues, hokum, and ragtime were considered outdated. The electric guitar and full band was gaining popularity. The Chicago-style blues were taking shape and by the late 1940s there wasn't much demand for country blues.
By 1951 Big Bill had simplified his guitar style and added folk songs to his repertoire. It was the beginning of the folk revival and the first time Broonzy made a living playing music without having to work other jobs to pay the rent. He was playing to white audiences in the packed concert halls of Europe.
Eric Clapton cites Big Bill Broonzy as being one of the musicians that influenced his style. Clapton recorded Broonzy's "Key to the Highway" with Derek and the Dominoes.
Big Bill Broonzty died of lung cancer August 15th, 1958.
Big Bill Broonzy - How You Want It Done.mp3
recorded March 29, 1932
Big Bill Broonzy - Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down.mp3
recorded October 11, 1935
Big Bill Broonzy - Come Home Early.mp3
recorded August 16, 1937