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Forrest City Joe

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Hughes AR, United States (1926 – 1960)

Blues harpist Forest City Joe was heavily influenced by John Lee Sonny Boy Williamson. He not only played like him, but sang like him as well. Unlike his idol, however, who was murdered on June 1, 1948, Joe lived long enough to record for the Chess brothers in the early days of their activities, when Chess was known as Aristocrat. Joe was remembered as a “great harp player” by Muddy Waters, who only missed playing at Joe’s one major Chess recording session on December 2, 1948, when Joe was only 21. Joe had more of a country sound than most Chicago artists of the period, so it’s surprising that the Chess brothers paired him up with J.C. Coles, a jazz guitarist of no seeming special account, who added little to a session but a few barely audible chords.

Joe Bennie Pugh was born in Hughes, AR, on July 10, 1926, to Moses Pugh and Mary Walker. He was raised in the area around Hughes and West Memphis, AR, and even as a boy played the local juke joints in the area. He hoboed his way through the state working road houses and juke joints during the 1940s, and late in the decade hooked up with Big Joe Williams, playing with him around St. Louis, MO. Beginning in 1947, he also began working the Chicago area, and a year later had his one and only session for the Chess brothers’ Aristocrat label. He also appeared with Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy “Rice Miller” Williamson (aka Sonny Boy Williamson II) on radio shows in the West Memphis area.

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