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January/February 2002

Robert Pete Williams
Robert Pete Williams

An excellent document of one of the major (though underrecognized) players in the lineage of country-blues guitar, Robert Pete Williams plays stark, bone-chilling solo country blues on his self-titled album originally released in 1971 by Ahura Mazda Records and now reissued on CD for the first time (Fat Possum 80349; 49:02). A real-deal country-bluesman who hailed from Zachary, La., Williams sings with field-holler intensity and plays his acoustic guitar in an unruly yet mesmerizing manner that might be considered avant-blues. A performer in rural Louisiana juke joints in the early '50s, Williams was convicted of murder in 1956 and sentenced to life at the Angola Prison Farm, where he wrote and recorded several prison-blues songs that were documented by folklorists. He was paroled in 1959 and pardoned in 1964, at which time he appeared at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, his first performance outside of Louisiana. He died in 1980 at the age of 66. Williams' playing is indelibly tied to Africa (similar in some respects to the playing of modern-day African guitarist Ali Farka Toure) but it is also quintessentially American in its expressiveness.

Originally published in January/February 2002
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