Obits in Brief: Willie King

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The Independent Online

The blues guitarist and singer Willie King, who died on 8 March aged 66, started out on a plantation playing a home-made diddly-bo – an instrument consisting of a wire stretched along a board, struck with a stick while sliding a stone, bottle neck or pocket knife along the string to control the pitch.

King was born in in Noxubee County, Mississippi, the son of sharecroppers. He worked as a travelling salesman before becoming a member of the civil rights movement. In 1997 he founded the Freedom Creek Blues Festival but didn't make his first album until 1999, the self-produced Walkin' the Walk, Talkin' the Talk.

King tried touring but became homesick and instead became a regular at Bettie's Juke Joint in Mississippi. He described his music as "struggle blues" because of its focus on the "injustices in life in the rural South".

The Dutch film-makers Saskia Rietmeijer and Bart Drolenga went to America to make a documentary about African-American arts and culture in the deep South. When they met King, they decided instead to devote their film to his life and times.

Over several months, the couple recorded King as he worked with his community in Pickens County and performed at festivals, juke joints and parties. The resulting DVD, Down in the Woods, was nominated for the Blues Music Awards in 2008. King also appeared in Martin Scorsese's 2003 documentary series, The Blues: Feel Like Going Home.