In Memoriam: Smokey Wilson (July 11, 1936 - September 8, 2015)

Robert Lee Wilson, b. July 11, 1936 in Glen Allan, MS. Wilson was eight when his father bought him his first guitar. His teenage years were spent developing his singing and playing skills. In 1961 he became a member of Junior Green And His Soul Searchers Band, which, after some years, he left to join Roosevelt ‘Booba’ Barnes, with whom he played for four years. In 1970, he moved to Los Angeles, hoping that his down-home style would be popular. He played in a number of clubs and became part-owner of the Casino Club, where he worked on a regular basis. In 1972, Wilson sold his interest in the club and bought the Pioneer Club in south central Los Angeles. Artists such as Percy Mayfield, George Smith, Lowell Fulson and Big Mama Thornton played alongside Wilson. His first two albums on the Big Town label featured an uncredited Rod Piazza on harmonica alongside a flashy rock guitarist, and inappropriate accompaniment marred the 1982 Murray Bros. outing 88th Street Blues. He fared better when he was accompanied by harmonica player William Clarke’s band on a self-titled 1990 set.

A new contract with the Bullseye Blues label saw Wilson through the 90s and marked a resurgence in his career. Smoke N’ Fire (1993) had guest appearances by Larry Davis and Jimmy McCracklin, effectively flattering Wilson’s modest talent. The Real Deal (1995) was better, with stand-out cuts including ‘Son Of A... Blues Player’ and a version of Muddy Waters’ ‘Feel Like Going Home’. He made one further recording for Bullseye (1997’s The Man From Mars) and remains an indefatigable live act...

September 8, 2015, Smokey Wilson died in sleep.