Iconic blues pianist, vocalist and songwriter Emery “Detroit Junior” Williams, Jr. died yesterday at his Chicago home of heart failure at the age of 73.
Junior was a raspy-voiced, rambunctious performer who gigged constantly and recorded on scores of other artists’ albums, as well as five albums under his own name. Two of his songs have become blues standards – “Call My Job,” which was a hit for Albert King, and evergreen favorite “Money Tree.” Koko Taylor recorded his “Tired Of That,” “Thanks, But No Thanks,” and “Never Trust A Man.”
Emery Williams, Jr. was already an experienced entertainer and piano player when he came to Chicago in 1956 from Detroit. He was originally from Haynes, Arkansas where he was born on October 26, 1931, and spent his childhood in southern Illinois. He had led his own band, the Blues Chaps, since he was 19, playing clubs in Pontiac and Flint, Michigan.
In Chicago Junior quickly won a following with his percussive piano and energetic stage show. He paired up with harp man Little Mack Simmons, and they settled into a steady gig as house band at Cadillac Baby’s South Side club. He recorded his first single, “Money Tree,” backed with “So Unhappy” in 1960 for the Bea & Baby label.
During the ’60s Junior performed with Mack Simmons, Eddie Taylor, Sam Lay and Johnny Twist. From 1968 on, he toured and recorded with the Howlin’ Wolf. When Wolf died in 1976, Junior stuck with the band, the Wolf Gang, under the leadership of sax man Eddie Shaw for a number of years.
Detroit Junior’s first full album under his own name, Chicago Urban Blues , came out in the early 1970s. Alligator Records included four of his songs on the Living Chicago Blues, Volume 6 anthology in 1980. From 1995 through 2004, Detroit Junior released four CDs under his own name, three for Blue Suit Records: Turn Up The Heat (1995), Take Out The Time (1997), and Live At The Toledo Museum Of Modern Art (2004). His most recent release was ’04’s Blues On The Internet on Delmark.
In the last few years, Junior often appeared on the Chicago’s North Side at clubs like Kingston Mines, even after losing a leg to diabetes. He was filmed for Martin Scosese’s PBS series, The Blues, and was active writing and performing until his death.