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Homesick James

April 30, 1910 – December 13, 2006

Wikipedia Biography

He was born in Somerville, Tennessee, the son of Cordellia Henderson and Plez Williamson Rivers, who were both musicians. The year of his birth is uncertain. He stated in various interviews that he was born in 1905, 1910, or 1914, while his union records give 1924. Earwig CEO Michael Frank took Homesick to renew his passport in the late 1990s and noticed that  the passport said he was born in 1910.

Little is known about his early life. He developed a self-taught style of slide guitar through playing at local dances in his teens. He claimed to have played with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller and Big Joe Williams, among others, and to have been acquainted with Robert Johnson. He also claimed to be the older cousin of Elmore James, to have bought James his first guitar, and to have taught him how to play slide. However, some of these claims are unconfirmed.

By the mid-1930s he was based in Chicago, working with Horace Henderson’s band at the Circle Inn and with the pianist Jimmy Walker at the Square Deal Club. He may have first recorded for RCA Victor in 1937, but this is also unconfirmed, and by 1938 may have begun playing electric guitar. His first known recordings were in 1952 for Chance Records, recording the tracks “Lonesome Ole Train” and “Homesick”, which gave him his stage name. During the late 1940s and 1950s he worked with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), and with Elmore James, and in the early 1950s he worked in bands including Baby Face Leroy Foster, Snooky Pryor, Floyd Jones, and Lazy Bill Lucas. He was a member of Elmore James’s band from 1955 to 1963, contributing to such tracks as “Dust My Broom,” “The Sky Is Crying,” and “Roll and Tumble.” Elmore James is said to have died on Homesick’s couch, while the latter frantically searched for the former’s heart pills.

As a solo performer, he recorded for the Colt and USA labels in 1962, including a cover version of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”. His slide guitar style, not as refined as Elmore James’s, traces back to Johnson’s. He also recorded a 1964 album for Prestige Records, Blues on the South Side (Prestige OBCCD 529-2), including another of his best-known covers, “Stones in My Passway”, and some tracks for Vanguard, which are available on the compilation album Chicago: The Blues Today.

One of his own songs, “Gotta Move” (also on Blues on the South Side) was covered (as “Got to Move”) by Elmore James and by Fleetwood Mac. He is mentioned by name in the 1989 song “Fergus Sings the Blues” by the Scottish rock band Deacon Blue, with the lyric “Homesick James, my biggest influence”.

Discography

1964 Blues on the South Side (Prestige/Original Blues)
1972 The Country Blues (Blues On Blues)
1973 Ain’t Sick No More (Bluesway)
1973 Homesick James Williamson & Snooky Pryor (Caroline)
1976 Home Sweet Homesick James (Big Bear)
1977 Goin’ Back Home (32 Jazz)
1979 Chicago Blues Festival vol.1 (Black and Blue)
1980 Homesick James & Snooky Pryor: Sad and Lonesome (Wolf)
1992 Sweet Home Tennessee (Appaloosa)
1994 Goin’ Back in the Times (Earwig)
1995 Got to Move (Trix Records)
1997 Juanita (Appaloosa)
1997 Words of Wisdom (Priority)
1998 Last of the Broomdusters (Fedora)
2003 Homesick James & Snooky Prior: The Big Bear Sessions (Sanctuary Records)

Earwig Producer’s Note

Homesick James had a nickname of “Look Quick” due to his propensity for moving or disappearing off a scene seemingly on the spur of the moment. During the time Earwig CEO Michael Frank knew Homesick James, from 1972 through 2006, Homesick lived in Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Fresno and finally Springfield, Missouri, where he died at age 96. One afternoon sitting at the bar at Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago, Homesick casually said to Michael, something to the effect that he should record Homesick, and Frank thought for a moment, and said basically, ‘Yeah I should, whereupon the deal was struck. Michael ended up making a solo record with Homesick, because during the first day of recording what was supposed to be an album of half band tracks and half solo tracks, Homesick started an argument with the all-star band of drummer Robert Covington, bassist Bob Stroger, and harmonica player Lester Davenport. The session disintegrated, but the next day Homesick played the solo tracks beautifully. So I made a decision to leave the band tracks off the album. Revisiting them in 2021, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the band tracks sound good enough to release on a new Homesick James album.

homesick james
Vocals, Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar
Albums