Big John WrencherOn any Sunday lunchtime in the 60s, Chicago‘s Maxwell Street market would echo to the sound of Big John Wrencher singing and playing his harp. Trade was always brisk, and ‘One Arm John’ loved to play for his neighbours, dancing, clowning and showboating all over the street. He continued his ‘residency’ for the rest of his life, even after the documentary film about the music of Maxwell Street, ‘And This is Free’, and his session work and Festival appearances had spread his reputation abroad.

John Wrencher was born in Sunflower MS and he grew up surrounded by the Blues. He learned to blow his harp as a youth, and played it far and wide in the country between Memphis and Chicago. In the 50s, Big John moved to Detroit for a while, where he worked with Baby Boy Warren and played on his album. In 1958, Big John was in a car-wreck in Memphis which resulted in him losing an arm. Holding a mic and a harp in his right hand, ‘One Arm John’ moved to Chicago and continued his career. The soundtrack to that 1964 film was issued as ‘And This is Chicago’, and Big John also appeared as a sideman on a couple of Robert Nighthawk albums.

Big John Wrencher Discography
Big John’s album ‘Maxwell Street Alley Blues’ is unavailable, but his London album has been re-issued and has a dozen tracks of his Chicago Blues backed by Eddie ‘Playboy’ Taylor, who played on all Jimmy Reed’s recordings.


Big John cut his own album ‘Maxwell Street Alley Blues’ in 1969, which led to appearances at the Chicago Blues Festival and tours of Europe with the American Blues Festival. Big John was a popular visitor to Europe and in 1974 he cut an album for the Big Bear label in London. While still continuing his Maxwell Street ‘residency’ in 1977, Big John was visiting relatives in Clarksdale MS when he had a heart attack while sitting in the chair at Walton’s Barbershop. A bottle of whisky he was sampling at the time remains at Walton’s as a tribute.

 One Arm John plays some classic Chicago style harp;