Born William Johnson, Willie was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi and used to hang out with the one and only Elvis Presley when they were boys. Says Willie:
“I remember playin’ baseball with Elvis. There was always something different about that boy always somethin’ different”
When he was thirteen Willie and his family moved to Chicago’s Southside where Willie’s “gospel roots budded blues flowers.” Studying with Luther Allison, Willie began his dream of becoming the next great Blues singer. Willie worked in the stockyards during the day and played blues at night, meeting and playing with many blues legends.
Willie recalls one of his first significant jobs,
“I remember bein’ twenty-one (21) and switching from lead guitar to bass so I could perform with blues greats like Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, Luther Allison, Magic Sam & Muddy Waters, yeah, yeah, Muddy.”
During the ’50s Willie lived the Blues – day-in, day out – in Chicago, or on a tour in the Midwest. Willie ‘felt’ what real blues were, he felt where they came from, and he understood why and how they were sang.
“There’s lots of blues to be learned out on the road,” Willie notes. “Three months at a time, five guys in a beat-up station wagon, Chevrolet station wagon I believe it was… I tell you that’ll teach a guy a lot about the blues.”
In 1962 Willie was traveling with Kansas City Red when Sam’s Bar & Grill in Columbus Ohio “recruited” him to be their house band and where he very affectionately became known as the “Godfather of Blues.”
“Godfather of Blues” at night, and during the day: it was the Buckeye Steel Mill (”Buckeye Still Mill Blues” pays tribute), a job he held for 30 years and 30 days until his retirement in 1999.
Willie continued to perform regularly in the Columbus area after his retirement in various venues throughout the city with his band, “Willie Pooch and the Upsetters”. Later in his careers, Willie teamed up with local jazz legend and B3 maestro, Tony Monaco, to record an album called: Willie Pooch’s Funk-N-Blues.
Willie will be missed in the Columbus music scene…Thanks for the memories Willie!