Joe Willie Wilkins was born to the Blues. His Daddy, Papa Frank Wilkins, was a friend of Charley Patton and he played guitar himself, so it was inevitable that the young kid was going to play too. Although mainly famous for a long career as a side-man who played on many great Blues records in the studios of Memphis and Chicago, Joe Willie was an innovative guitarist in his own right. His articulate, single-string riffing and well-balanced but soulful solo work influenced many later Blues superstars.
Joe Willie adds some flourishes to Houston Stackhouse’s version of Tommy Johnson’s ‘Cool Drink of Water’;
In 1950, Joe Willie joined Willie Love and Willie Nix in The Three Aces, often billed as The Four Aces when Sonny Boy II sat in. They got a regular radio gig in West Memphis, and this led to session work for Sam Phillips across the river, and several tracks released by Sun Records under Willie Nix’s name. Joe Willie got further session work for Trumpet Records in Jackson MS, Chess Records in Chicago and just about every other studio in the Windy City over the next decade or so. ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, Elmore James, ‘Shakey’ Horton, Memphis Slim, ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Williams and hordes of others had their records enhanced by Joe Willie’s tasteful playing. Joe Willie’s most enduring partnership was with Houston Stackhouse, and for years the two men shared a house in Memphis. They toured the clubs and Festivals together and performed as part of the Memphis Blues Caravan, which paid tribute to their years with Sonny Boy II. In 1973, Joe Willie played with Charley Booker at his final appearance, at a Blues Festival in South Bend, Indiana, and despite his own health problems, he continued to play around his hometown until he passed away in 1979.