Mighty Joe Young
There was a time during the late '70s and early '80s when Mighty Joe Young was one of the leading blues guitarists on Chicago's budding North side blues circuit. The Louisiana native got his start not in the Windy City, but in Milwaukee, where he was raised. He earned a reputation as a reliable guitarist on Chicago's West side with Joe Little & his Heart Breakers during the mid-'50s, later changing his on-stage allegiance to harpist Billy Boy Arnold. Young recorded with Arnold for Prestige and Testament during the '60s and backed Jimmy Rogers for Chess in 1958.
After abortive attempts to inaugurate a solo career with Jiffy Records in Louisiana in 1955 and Chicago's Atomic-H label three years later, Young hit his stride in 1961 with the sizzling "Why Baby"/"Empty Arms" for Bobby Robinson's Fire label. Young gigged as Otis Rush's rhythm guitarist from 1960 to 1963 and cut a series of excellent Chicago blues 45s for a variety of firms: "I Want a Love," "Voo Doo Dust," and "Something's Wrong" for Webcor during the mid-'60s; "Something's Wrong" for Webcor in 1966; "Sweet Kisses" and "Henpecked" on Celtex and "Hard Times (Follow Me)" for USA (all 1967), and "Guitar Star" for Jacklyn in 1969. Young even guested on Bill "Hoss" Allen's groundbreaking 1966 syndicated R&B TV program The Beat in Dallas. Late-'60s session work included dates with Tyrone Davis and Jimmy Dawkins.
Delmark issued Young's solo album debut, Blues With a Touch of Soul, in 1971, but a pair of mid-'70s LPs for Ovation (1974's Chicken Heads and an eponymous set in 1976) showcased the guitarist's blues-soul synthesis far more effectively. Young's main local haunt during the '70s and early '80s was Wise Fools Pub, where he packed 'em in nightly (with Freddy King's brother, Benny Turner, on bass).
In 1986 Joe began work on a self-financed recording that would finally allow him to have complete artistic control. At this time he also discovered surgery was needed on a pinched nerve in his neck. Following the operation, complications arose that affected his ability to play guitar. As part of psychical therapy he continued to work on the album sporadically until Mighty Man was finally released in 1997. Unfortunately health problems continued to plague Mighty Joe and he passed away on March 25, 1999 in Chicago. He was 71. ~ Bill Dahl & Al Campbell