Guitarist and singer Big Joe Williams was born in 1903 in Crawford, Mississippi. (No relation to Georgia born big band singer, 'Joe Williams' who sang with Count Basie's Orchestra for several years.) By the time he was in his teens, Big Joe Williams was on the road travelling the southern USA states playing street corners, juke joints, parties and and lumbar camps, and this was the pattern of most of his life. Before he was twenty years old he had joined the Birmingham Jug Band, and was with them when they recorded for the Okeh label in 1930. Although he was a traveller by nature, he spent quite a lot of time in St Louis where he became a close friend of Bessie Smith. It was in St Louis that Williams met Lester Melrose and he accompanied Melrose to Chicago in 1935 to record. He  recorded six tracks at that session including his most famous song, "Baby, Please Don't Go", and also "49 Highway". He continued to work with Melrose until 1945, producing his classic track "Crawling King Snake" in 1941. During this period he recorded and performed with some of the great contemporary blues artists of the time including  harp player John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, pianist Peetie Wheatstraw Robert Nighthawk and St. Louis resident Charley Jordan.

Williams approach to guitar playing was very influenced by Charlie Patton and he played his unusual 9 string guitar almost like a drum to intensify the rhythmic effect, accompanied by his fierce, almost aggressive singing. With the downturn of interest in rural blues during the late 1940's and 1950's,Williams career petered off at that time and he returned to his itinerant lifestyle. The revival of interest in the 1960's brought Williams back to the studio, recording for Victoria Spivey's label Spivey Records. He also enjoyed success on the student and folk festival circuit, and he toured Europe twice, in 1968 and in 1972. One of the greats, he died in Georgia in 1982, aged 79, and was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1992.