Robert Pete Williams – Louisiana Blues
John Fahey’s short-lived but justifiably legendary record label Takoma produced a number of very significant releases—two of which are two of the most incredible albums I’ve ever heard in my life. One of these albums—which I’ll profile at a later date—was by Bukka White. The other is this one.
In the entire history of country blues music, there has never been an artist who is at once so spooky, and so funky. Robert Pete Williams might well be from another planet, so utterly singular is his sound.
His voice is beyond imagining. What words can you use to describe it? Wild? Howling? Primitive? Raw? Primal? Impassioned? Otherworldly? They all apply, and they all fall short.
He was serving time in Angola (the Louisiana State Penitentiary) when he was “discovered” in 1956. His music led to his being pardoned in 1958. In 1964, he played the Newport Folk Festival. The songs that comprise this album were recorded in 1966, 8 years out from having been incarcerated in what Collier’s magazine in 1952 called “the worst prison in America.”
There are very few country blues artists whose every musical contribution stands out for its singularity. Robert Pete Williams was just such an artist. His guitar sound and style; unmatchable, and instantly recognizable. His voice, possessed.
All this would be more than enough. But then there are the lyrics. What can we do but bow to the power of the artist who gives us these words:
Mama, why I got to be so ugly in this world?
Son, that’s just a mark that God put on your face.
Recommended track to start with: “Somebody Help Poor Me.” Track #1. Followed by the rest of them.