From Mechanic to Full-Time Bluesman
Willie Farmer is living proof that Mississippi continues to breed deep blues.
He’s lived his entire life in tiny Duck Hill, Mississippi, on the family farm in the Hill Country east of the Delta. He was besotted with the blues by his early teens. He started with an acoustic guitar, but he picked cotton and saved enough money to buy an electric instrument.
He learned about blues and R&B mostly through listening to a powerful station out of Nashville, Tennessee.
“John R of WLAC, that’s how I listened to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf,” Willie says. “I learned Lightin’ pretty good, and then I went to B.B. I can play all the up-to-date stuff now—B.B., Little Milton—but I like the old stuff, that’s the real blues. The blues they’re singing today, that ain’t blues to me. It just doesn’t have the feel.”
For decades, Willie has made his living as a car mechanic in Duck Hill, but he dreams of a blues retirement. That dream appeared closer in 2019, when the Big Legal Mess label put out his relentlessly powerful album “The Man From the Hill.” Critical praise for the album came quickly. DownBeat called him “one of the real finds in recent memory.” That attention landed Willie several high-profile gigs for 2020, including a spot at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. But the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic made those gigs disappear.
But Willie is pressing on.
“I’m trying to get out of that shop,” he says. “I’m tired of messing with those cars. It’s been a long time.”
Willie Farmer was born on June 2, 1956.
Top photo by Tim Duffy.