Big Bill Broonzy

By Gary: Tonight we present a very early artist of the Delta/Chicago Blues…  His music is not only hard to obtain but some of it is over 80 years old.  So for that purpose I will use some recordings that are only 55 years old, from the Folkways People.

Big Bill Broonzy

Big Bill Broonzy

Born June 26, 1898 – Died August 14, 1958

Hey Hey / In 1992 Eric Clapton did a great version for MTV unplugged /
Recorded in Italy / Backwater Blues /
Hey Hey / 1956 /
From 1957 Bill does “Worried Man Blues” “Hey Hey” and “How you want it done” /



Hey, Hey, Baby/recorded in 1957/ It’s Just Another Song from his earlier days.

Key to the Highway/November 14/56/Words by Bill Broonzy/Music Charlie Segar

C. C. Rider (also known as See See Rider) recorded/November 14/56/Bill claimed he heard it from Ma Rainey

Shuffle Rag/recorded May 57/ Bill had many rags in his earlier music

Hush, Somebody’s Calling Me/May 57/ (This one I use to sing when I was 10 or 12)

Black, Brown and White/November 14/56/Words and Music by Bill Broonzy

Key to the Highway/date Unknown/Not a Folkways recording (earlier)

Big Bill” was born William Lee Conley Broonzy in Scott County, Mississippi on June 26, 1893 or 1898 (the exact year is unclear). While Broonzy himself claimed to be born in 1893, another source claims that Broonzy had a twin sister named Lannie Broonzy who had proof they were born on June 26, 1898.

During this time, it was common for black men to add years to their actual age in order to get a job or join the military, which may very well have been Broonzy’s case as well. Regardless, Broonzy left Mississippi in 1924 and arrived in Chicago, where he met Papa Charlie Jackson, who taught him to play guitar (Broonzy had previously been a fiddler).

Broonzy first recorded as a self-accompanied singer in 1929, and continued to record in that style.

Around 1936, he became one of the first blues singers to use a small instrumental group, including “traps” (drums) and acoustic bass as well as one or more melody instruments (horns and/or harmonica).

These discs were usually issued as Big Bill and his Chicago Five. At that time, Broonzy was recording for the American Record Corporation on their line of less expensive labels (Melotone, Perfect Records, et al).

In 1939, ARC was acquired by CBS, and Broonzy then appeared on Vocalion (later Okeh) and, after 1945, on Columbia Records.

One of his best-known songs was written at that time, “Key To the Highway“.

More earlier recordings:

These probably go back to the forties, maybe earlier.

This See See Rider is just instrumental.

Baby Please Don’t Go – probably originated in the 1930’s but this version was the Folkways recording done around 1956. *

Sixteen Tons was a huge hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford in 55, but was written by Merle Travis in 46.

Listen to Midnight Special it sounds like the 30’s.

Now Going to Chicago, is from the Black,Brown & White Album.

Southern Flood Blues is much earlier and is from Warm, Witty & Wise.


So now you see the dilemma that we writing and research staff face.  When you want to post music that spans 30 years, but ends in 58, “Huston we have a problem“!  The documentation for the 30’s and 40’s is not great, so we need a raise!  😉

* Just for fun, by way of comparison, here is Broonzy’s  Baby Please Don’t Go covered much later by Paul Revere and The Raiders:



7 responses to “Big Bill Broonzy

  1. Broonzy was definitely one of the great ones. A nice touch to juxtapose PR & the Raiders’ version of Baby Please Don’t Go against the real thing. Hollywood vs. Chicago. But at least the slick covers brought attention to the originals. Big Joe Williams has the copyright on this tune. I wonder if he wrote it or just put his name on it, like the enterprising Willie Dixon did with dozens of tunes.

  2. What a great website!

    The version of Hey Hey Baby must be in Eric Clapton’s music collection. He covered it on ” Unplugged ” almost note for note……..if my music ear remembers correctly.

    I can see myself visiting this site every day for years!!!!

    Thanks for the memories.


    An old Bluenote Club member.

    • Hi Don
      Glad you are enjoying our blog. Most of the credit goes to Gary Copeland, who does the research and sends me music. If you look at the INDEX, you’ll see hundreds of artists are listed. I hope you have a good time with this. Hey, did we ever meet at Club Bluenote? I played in the house band for a while, as you may have noted.
      – Russ

  3. Hi Russ

    I see that I’ll be spending a lot of time listening to the music here. As far as the Bluenote goes I know we would not have met there as the only people I met there were the ladies. I hung around with a WTCHS friend who introduced me to the Bluenote and R & B in general. I am still in the class of wannabe musician and like Gary had a few chords and licks available for any jam session I came across. Now a days I attend the Southside Shuffle each year and groove to the great bands that play there. I live 5 hours from TO so I don’t get in there often.

    I’ll keep an eye on your website to see if I can arrange to see you play when I am in town.


  4. Hi Russ & Gary; Moved from your Early Heavy Metal to Big Bill Broonzy–ione of the very versatile things about your site–the ability to call up your favourite when what is offered is not quite to your taste. You both do a terrific job, and I just signed up my cousin-by-marriage. You will thrill him too.

  5. Great stuff, these old time blues artists deserve more credit and a lot of contemporary artists owe a lot to them.
    Russ, I remember the Bluenote well, Steve and I used to frequent it many a night.

  6. Great Stuff, authentic gut-bucket Blues. Well done !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.