Johnnie "Mr. Johnnie" Billington, a revered Clarksdale, Mississippi musician and educator, died on Monday, April 1, 2013 from complications suffered from an earlier heart attack. Born in 1935 in the Delta community of Crowder, Mississippi to a sharecropper family, Billington grew up working on the farm, teaching himself the guitar by playing along with the performances he heard on the radio. After living and playing in Chicago from the late 1950s through the late 1970s, Billington returned to Mississippi, where he opened an auto repair shop and played at night and on weekends. During the late 1980s, he began opening his repair shop at night as a rehearsal space, teaching area teens how to play blues music, as well as the history of the blues and the Mississippi Delta and in the early 1990s, Billington formed the non-profit Delta Blues Education Fund. His efforts earned him many accolades for his selfless work in the blues, including The Blues Foundation's "Keeping The Blues Alive" education award.
Bobby "Blue" Bland, the great blues singer, passed away on Sunday, June 23, 2012 at the age of 83 years, his death due to complications from an ongoing illness. Bland's smooth-as-silk vocal style successfully bridged the blues and R&B era of the 1950s and the soul era of the 1960s with a number of hit singles like "Turn On Your Love Light" and "Further On Up The Road." Along the way, Bland would influence scores of imitators and followers, including great soul singers like Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, rockers like Van Morrison and Eric Clapton, and a generation of blues singers. A well-respected elder statesman of the blues, Bobby "Blue" Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Capping off an amazing career that spanned seven decades, Bland received a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
John Riley Brown, known to his fans worldwide as "Texas" Johnny Brown, passed away on Monday, July 1st, 2103 at his home in Houston after a short battle with liver and lung cancer. Brown was 85 years old. Brown picked up the guitar as a child and, at the age of sixteen, set out on his own and moved to Alexandria, Louisiana. A couple of years later he landed in Houston where he would make a name for himself as a blues guitarist. Nicknamed "Texas Johnny Brown," he would tour and record as both a bandleader and sideman throughout the 1950s and '60s. In 1970, Brown temporarily put aside his guitar to work a day job and raise his family, returning to music upon his retirement in 1991 at the age of 63, subsequently releasing a handful of albums and performing live. Texas Johnny Brown's career spanned six decades and earned him widespread acclaim and accolades as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist.
Piedmont-style blueswoman Precious Bryant passed away on January 12, 2013 after a six-week battle with complications from diabetes and congestive heart failure. Bryant was 71 years old. Born and raised in Georgia, Bryant played country-blues with definite folk undertones, developing a finger-picked guitar style with a strong Piedmont influence. Bryant's career spanned better than 30 years, but she recorded sporadically throughout her lengthy career, releasing her debut album, Fool Me Good, in 2002. Bryant's final recording came later in 2005, when the Music Maker Relief Foundation released her acclaimed My Name Is Precious album. Featuring a stripped-down country-blues sound, with Bryant on guitar and her son on bass, the album also included guest vocals from fellow Piedmont blues guitarist Cootie Stark. Music Maker helped Bryant through the final years of her life, providing a monthly stipend for medicine, food, and utilities. When Bryant's health no longer allowed her to tour, Music Maker and its supporters provided her with a new mobile home to live in.
Popular Chicago bluesman Eric "Guitar" Davis was found shot to death in his car early Thursday morning, December 20, 2013. Davis was only 41 years old. The guitarist was the son of famed Chicago blues drummer Bobby "Top Hat" Davis. The young Davis's musical talent emerged at a young age when he began playing the drums; by the age of ten Eric was good enough to back talents like Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King at Chicago clubs like The Checkerboard Lounge and Theresa's Lounge. In recent years, Davis and his band the Troublemakers were regular performers in the Chicago area and the guitarist had just recently signing a deal with the legendary Delmark Records label to record a new album.
Chicago blues legend Jimmy "Fast Fingers" Dawkins passed away on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 of undisclosed causes; Dawkins was 76 years old. Born in Tchula, Mississippi, Dawkins taught himself guitar before moving north to Chicago in 1955. With encouragement and help from harp player Billy Boy Arnold, Dawkins soon fell in among the talented players of the thriving West Side blues scene, forming his first band in the early 1960s. Introduced to Bob Koester by guitarist Magic Sam, Delmark Records released Dawkins' first two albums, 1969's Fast Fingers and 1971's All For Business, which many critics believe represent the artist's best work. A longtime contributor to Living Blues magazine, Jimmy Dawkins was also an internationally-beloved bluesman who frequently toured Europe and Japan, releasing albums on two continents, and leaving behind a considerable body of work that blues music historians will be chewing on for years to come.
Mississippi Delta bluesman James Lewis Carter "T-Model" Ford passed away on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 of respiratory failure after a brief illness. Ford's age was uncertain; he claimed he was 93, his family said he was 89 years old. Ford came to the blues somewhat late in life, picking up the guitar in the early 1980s when he was 58 years old, releasing Pee-Wee Get My Gun, his debut album, in1997. Several album releases would follow, accompanied by lengthy tours, but Ford had suffered from ill health for the past few years, and had a pacemaker inserted at the end of his 2008 tour with the band GravelRoad. Ford suffered the first of two strokes in early 2010, but still completed his tour. His second stroke came in the summer of 2012, which slowed him down, although he still performed at the 2012 King Biscuit Blues Festival.
British blues-rock guitarist Peter Haycock, best known for his work as frontman of the Climax Blues Band, passed away on October 30, 2013 of an apparent heart attack. Haycock was 62 years old. Haycock formed what was then known as the Climax Chicago Blues Band in 1967 with singer Colin Cooper at the height of the British blues boom. The band released its self-titled debut album in 1969, later dropping the "Chicago" from its name so as not to be confused with the American band of that name. Haycock and the band subsequently recorded a number of well-received albums as the Climax Blues Band during the 1970s, including the Top 30 charting Gold Plated album in 1976. More recently, Haycock had returned to his blues roots, recording with fellow guitarist Robin George as Pete Haycock's Climax Blues Band featuring Robin George, the pair's debut album scheduled for 2014 release.
Piedmont bluesman George Higgs passed away on Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 at the age of 82 from unreported causes. Born in 1930 in a small farming community near Speed, North Carolina Higgs was taught the harmonica as a child by his father. During the 1960s, Higgs sang and played guitar with the Friendly Five Gospel Quartet as well as performing in his own folk-blues style. The bluesman received the North Carolina Folklore Society's Brown-Hudson Award in 1992, and the following year he was presented with the North Carolina Heritage Award in honor of his contributions to the musical culture of the state. Through the years, Higgs farmed and worked as a carpenter. Higgs became involved with the Music Maker Relief Foundation, who released his debut album, 2001's Tarboro Blues, which earned him a "Best Blues Album of the Year" award from Living Blues magazine. Music Maker also released Higgs' 2006 album Rainy Day.
Chicago blues legend Morris "Magic Slim" Holt died on Thursday, February 21st, 2013 at the age of 75. Holt had been suffering from a breathing disorder and had been hospitalized in Philadelphia for several weeks before his passing. Holt formed his longtime band the Teardrops with his brother, bassist Nick Holt, and Magic Slim & the Teardrops would soon become one of the most popular blues bands in Chicago and around the world. His first full-length album was released in 1978 and over the next three decades, Magic Slim would release over two-dozen albums on labels like Alligator Records, Evidence Records, Wolf Records, and Rooster Blues. In 1990, Slim began a lengthy association with Blind Pig Records that lasted until his death, the label releasing ten albums and a live DVD over 22 years. Over the course of his lengthy career, Magic Slim earned 44 Blues Music Award nominations from The Blues Foundation, winning six awards total.