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Biography

Willie Joe Duncan was remembered by many folks in Chicago who saw him in the early 1950s playing on Maxwell Street with Jimmy Reed. Jimmy Reed, who called Willie Joe by the nickname Jody, reminisced about Duncan in his final interview (Living Blues #1, June 1975):

"…he was doin this old crazy thing, with this one strand of wire, he wasn't lettin' me lose him nowhere; now, how he was catchin' me on that one strand of broom wire I don't know! But he was doing it all right. He could play that string of wire with a bottle, if he didn't do it with his finger he'd do it with a little old piece of leather on his finger or something he'd pick it with. But on that one strand of wire on that board he could find whatever I was playin' on that guitar. Now that was somethin' I sure hated to lose. Yeah, I hated to lose Jody because it just was a crazy old thing".

The last thing Jimmy Reed heard about his busking partner "Jody" was that Duncan had taken up preaching in California. He hadn't seen Willie Joe since 1955 when Duncan left Chicago for the coast, taking his one stringed instrument with him.

Having settled somewhere in the greater L.A. area, in 1956, Duncan recorded with Bob "Froggy" Landers appearing on Landers' classic– Cherokee Dance (Specialty), his Unitar was the most predominate instrument on the record. On the b-side was Unitar Rock which was credited only to Willie Joe & his Unitar. Guitarist Rene Hall brought Willie Joe back into the studio in 1957 to re-cut "Unitar Rock" under the title of "Twitchy" and it appeared on the B-side of Rene's instrumental single "Flippin'", also released on Specialty.

Recently, some previously unreleased tracks have surfaced that were recorded in 1988 in East Palo Alto, California, by Charlie Lange, credited to Willie Joe Duncan & his Unitar. Duncan is backed by Chester D. Wilson on guitar, Lone Cat on harmonica and Willie G. on spoons.

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