Obituary: Mighty Joe Young

ALTHOUGH HE had not played much guitar for over 10 years - he played on only two tunes on his last album, Mighty Man (1997), and they were recorded before surgery on a pinched nerve in 1986 left his hands virtually powerless - Mighty Joe Young was still living up to his name as recently as last December, when he was touring the United States with Buddy Guy's Legends show. He had built up a strong following among all who appreciated his continuous efforts to give his blues playing and singing a contemporary feel.

"It's different from traditional blues," he said of his last album, which had as much soul as blues in it, with its punchy horn choruses arranged by Gene "Daddy G" Barge and Willie Henderson, "but it is blues. I like a beautiful arrangement, not a traditional sound that's the same all the time. I want a different sound."

Born in 1927 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Young began playing in the early 1950s, working clubs in Milwaukee and then back in his native Louisiana where in 1955 he first recorded for the Jiffy label. He was already well known for his work with the harmonica-player Billy Boy Arnold, the guitarist Jimmy Rogers, and his brilliant contemporary Otis Rush, when in 1961 a manager added the "Mighty" sobriquet to his name for his solo albums for the little Fire label. The name was borrowed from the 1949 cult movie about a gorilla, Mighty Joe Young, a remake of which was released just last week.

Young is notable in blues history for breaking out of the South Side Chicago ghetto and playing to largely white audiences on the North Side, becoming a regular on the US and European festival and university circuits and at Chicago night-clubs. He played every New Year's Eve at the Wise Fools club for 12 consecutive years, and released an album recorded there, Live at the Wise Fools Pub, in 1990. His playing and singing was in many ways a bridge between the sound of the Chicago blues bands which had nurtured him in his early days, and the soul music that had broken through to "cross- over" acceptance; his solo albums included Blues with a Touch of Soul (1970), Legacy of the Blues (1972), Chicken Heads (1974) and Mighty Joe Young (1976).

Young appeared regularly on albums by Magic Sam (Morris Holt), Willie Dixon, Albert King, Jimmy Dawkins, and Tyrone Davis (and also on Davis's hit single, "Can I Change My Mind"), but it was his playing with Koko Taylor at Chicago's first Grant Park Blues Festival in 1969, recreated on her Grammy-nominated debut album Alligator six years later, which helped to establish both of them as contemporary blues artists of stature.

Between tours, in 1986 Young took his band into the studio for a self- financed album over which he would have total artistic control, a project which took over 10 years to come to fruition as Mighty Man. After recording only three numbers he went into hospital for surgery on a pinched nerve in his neck. "That's when things started to go to hell," he recalled later. "I went in on September 3 and I got back out at the end of October. I was in rehab for a year."

A keen amateur boxer in his early years, he had continued to work out in the gym all his life - and especially when he strove for 10 years to learn to walk again and regain his strength after the operation which disabled him - and with his barrel chest and deep, throaty voice, he had an impressive stage presence which continued well into his 70th year.

"Mighty" Joe Young, guitarist and singer: born Shreveport, Louisiana 23 September 1927; married; died Chicago 24 March 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night