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Homesick James

Homesick James (30 April 1910 - 13 December 2006) was a black American blues musician. He is believed to have been born John William Henderson, but later used the name James A. Williamson and was sometimes referred to as Homesick James Williamson.

Life

He was born in Somerville, Tennessee, the son of Cordellia Henderson and Plez Williamson Rivers, who were both musicians. He developed a self-taught style of slide guitar through playing at local dances in his teens. His early life is uncertain. He claimed to have played with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller and Big Joe Williams, among others, and to have been acquainted with Robert Johnson. He also claimed to be the older cousin of Elmore James, to have bought Elmore his first guitar, and to have taught him how to play slide. However, some of these claims are unconfirmed.

By the early 1930s he was based in Chicago, and formed a band called the Dusters that included Snooky Pryor and "Babyface" Leroy Foster. He may have first recorded for RCA Victor in 1937, but this is also unconfirmed, and by 1938 may have begun playing electric guitar. His first known recordings were in 1952 for Chance Records, recording the tracks "Lonesome Ole Train" and "Homesick" which gave him his stage name. During the late 1940s and 1950s he worked with both Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), and with Elmore James. He was a longtime member of Elmore's band from 1955 to 1963, contributing to such classics as "Dust My Broom," "The Sky is Crying," and "Roll and Tumble." Elmore is said to have died on Homesick's couch while the latter frantically searched for the former's heart pills.

As a solo performer, he recorded for the Colt and USA labels in 1962, including a version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads". Homesick James's slide guitar style, not as refined as Elmore James's, traces back to Johnson's. He also recorded a 1964 album for Prestige Records, Blues On the South Side (Prestige OBCCD 529-2), including another of his best-known covers, "Stones In My Passway", and some tracks for Vanguard that are available on the compilation Chicago: The Blues Today. One of his own songs, "Gotta Move" (also on Blues On the South Side) was covered (as "Got To Move") both by Elmore James and by Fleetwood Mac.

In the 1970s he began playing at blues festivals, including some in Europe, often with Snooky Pryor. He continued to record for labels including Delmark, Prestige, Big Bear, Appaloosa and Icehouse Records. Homesick married Rosa Mangiullo, an Italian immigrant, who with her son Tony owns and operates premier blues club Rosa's Lounge on the west side of Chicago in the 1980s - they would remain married until his death although they did not live together other than for a brief period after the wedding. Her son Tony is a well-known blues drummer in Chicago and Europe. Homesick was referred to by name in the Deacon Blue song "Fergus Sings the Blues", in the lyric "Homesick James, my biggest influence". Homesick toured the country with Big Walter Horton and appeared on National Public Radio broadcasts live from college campuses in the late 1970s, backed by Rich Molina, Bradley P. Smith, Eddie Taylor, Guido Sinclair and Paul Nebenzahl.

He remained an active performer into his 90s, performing both locally and at international festivals, but stopped recording in 2004. He moved to Springfield, Missouri, where he was cared for during the last years of his life by blues musician and protege John Long, and died there on December 13, 2006. He is buried in Covington, Tennessee. 

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