Homesick James | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Homesick James Williamson is one of the last of the legendary free spirits of the blues. Born in Somerville, Tennessee, he ran away from home at a young age and joined the southern circuit of itinerant blues entertainers, playing with such notables as Blind Boy Fuller, Johnny Shines, and others before finally settling in Chicago in the early 1930s. He toured and recorded with Elmore James in both Memphis and Chicago between the late 40s and the early 60s; during that same era he also waxed some unforgettable sides under his own name for labels like Chance, USA, and Atomic. Through the years his eccentric timing, unpredictable personality, and keenly wailing slide have frustrated sidemen and delighted audiences, while his irascible determination to embellish his own legend has caused historians to either throw up their hands in despair or take his stories at face value--which explains why he's celebrating his 88th birthday this year despite the fact that for years he claimed he was born in 1910. At any given time he may be brilliant, disastrously out of synch, or some maddening combination of the two; either way his performances are unforgettable pieces of living history. Saturday, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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