Leroy James, Willie James (Center), James Weston
After leaving New Orleans, we headed towards Willie James – our country’s greatest Juke Joint drummer. When he plays the drum, you hear the sweat, the beer, and the cigarettes of a lifetime playing the roughest back country juke joints in Mississippi.
It was a cold night when we arrived at Willie James’ home, and we all sat down in his living room, all the burners on the stove were on and the oven door was open, providing all the heat for their trailer. Willie was obviously in pain; he told us he had been under the trailer for the past two days trying to fix their busted water pipes. “My arthritis has really got me,” he said. We caught up with each other, talked of our travels in France and the many shows he did with his band-leader, Willie King. He had been Willie King’s drummer all his life and when King died, Willie James was put out of work – and has been since. Most of the old musicians he knew in the area either had jobs or had retired from playing, and weren’t able to give him any connections to more work.
The next day we spent time with Willie’s family; he had brought out the old drum set I had given him years ago and began to beat. Aaron and I set up our tintype camera gear. The neighbor living in the trailer next door opened his window and started blasting Willie King’s music. We had a great day, talking and shooting photos. At the end of the day I presented a grant check to Willie from Music Maker – enough money to fix his broken pipes. I was very taken when his knees buckled and tears streamed from his eyes. “No one has ever helped me like this in my life!”
Willie called after we got back; he thanked us for the visit and reported that his pipes were fixed, water back on, and said to thank all our Music Maker supporters. We’re looking forward to recording Willie James, and working with him more in the future. Stay tuned!