Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Remembering Detroit Junior

Emery "Detroit Junior" Williams, Jr., died in his Chicago home on August 9, 2005 of heart failure.

Detroit Junior was an awesome guy. Back when I lived in Chicago, he was a fixture on the Blues scene. He was one of those rare guys that when he walked in a room you could sense that he was someone special simply by his presence. When he sat down to play and sing, it confirmed his star quality. He was all over Chicago in the 80's. If he wasn't at one of his own shows, he was sitting in everywhere. He loved the music and it showed in every one of his performances.

I never met him until the mid 90's, when he came to Chicago and performed for two weeks at Blues on B in San Mateo with Shirley Johnson. He was one of the nicest and most approachable guys on the Blues scene that I ever met. I went to every one of those shows. Despite the fact that he was on kidney dialysis which sapped his seemingly boundless energy, he still managed to put everything into his music.

The last time I saw him was in Chicago in 1996 at the Chicago Blues Festival. He was walking down Jackson Blvd heading toward the city. It must have been a 100 degrees outside and it was incredibly humid. It was miserable. I can't imagine how he must have felt. People suffering from kidney failure typically don't sweat. He was exhausted. He was wearing a dark red suit and a black hat. He stood out in the crowd as always. His attire was a stark contrast to the crowd of festival attendees dressed in T-shirts and shorts. When I said hello, he stopped and talked with me for a bit in the hot afternoon sun. When he left, he was slowly walking across the bridge over the Illinois Central tracks and he disappeared into the crowd.

He was a prolific songwriter that combined humor with real world experience. He is certainly one of the last great postwar piano players. He was a great entertainer and a really nice person.

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