Legendary and beloved blues pianist, vocalist and songwriter Emery “Detroit Junior” Williams, Jr., died at his Chicago home on August 9, 2005 of heart failure. He was 73. Over the course of his 50-plus year career, Detroit Junior led his own bands and appeared as a solo performer, in addition to playing in bands with Howlin’ Wolf and Eddie Shaw. He wrote hundreds of songs, had numerous local successful 45s, as well as writing hits recorded by Albert King and Koko Taylor.


He was a wildly entertaining performer in his own right as well, gigging constantly and recording on scores of other artists’ albums as well as four full albums under his own name. Two of his songs have become blues standards: “Call My Job,” which was a hit for Albert King, and the perennial favorite, “Money Tree.” Koko Taylor has recorded three of his tunes: “Tired Of That,” “Thanks, But No Thanks,” and “Never Trust A Man.”  His rambunctious personality, raspy voice and untamed stage antics (including playing the piano standing up, on his knees and from underneath the piano) earned him many fans and friends around the world.


Emery Williams, Jr. was already an experienced entertainer and piano player when he came to Chicago in 1956 from Detroit.  He was originally from Haynes, Arkansas where he was born on October 26, 1931, and spent his childhood in southern Illinois. He had led his own band, the Blues Chaps, since he was 19, playing clubs in Pontiac and Flint, Michigan. For three years they were the house band at The Circle Club in Detroit, backing touring stars like Roscoe Gordon, Eddie Boyd, John Lee Hooker and Amos Milburn. Milburn was Junior’s idol, and his humorous blues about the evils of alcohol inspired some of Junior’s best songwriting.

Blues musician Eddie Boyd first brought Junior to Chicago in the early 1950s, hoping to line up a contract for him with Chess Records. The Chess deal didn’t work out at first, but Junior fell in with J.T Brown, the city’s leading blues sax man. They landed a gig at Club 99, then at the legendary Squeeze Club. Junior quickly won a following with his percussive piano and energetic stage show. He paired up with harp man Little Mack Simmons, and they settled into a steady gig as house band at Cadillac Baby’s South Side club. He recorded his first single, “Money Tree” backed with “So Unhappy” in 1960 for the Bea & Baby label. That record marked the first appearance of “Detroit Junior;” before that time he had been known as Little Junior Williams, and when the record became a local hit, the nickname stuck.

Chess Records, sensing they had missed something, signed Junior, but subsequent singles didn’t sell, and he cut for Foxy, CL and Palos before waxing his next hit, the original “Call My Job,” on U.S.A., in 1965. The flipside, “The Way I Feel,” a spontaneous and sensitive piano solo, proved that Junior had talent for deep blues as well as novelty tunes.

During the ‘60s, Junior gigged with Mack Simmons, Eddie Taylor, Sam Lay and Johnny Twist. From 1968 on, he toured and recorded with the late Howlin’ Wolf, playing everywhere from college auditoriums to Big Duke’s Flamingo. When Wolf died in 1976, Junior stuck with the band, The Wolf Gang, under the leadership of sax man Eddie Shaw for a number of years.


Detroit Junior’s first full album under his own name, “Chicago Urban Blues” (on the Blues On Blues label) came out in the early 1970s. Alligator Records included four of his songs on the “Living Chicago Blues, Volume 6” anthology in 1980. The album helped establish him as a successful solo performing career. From 1995 through 2004, Detroit Junior released four CDs under his own name, three for Blue Suit Records: “Turn Up The Heat” (1995), “Take Out The Time” (1997), and “Live At The Toledo Museum Of Modern Art” (2004). His most recent CD was 2004’s “Blues On The Internet” on Delmark.

In the last few years, Junior often appeared on the Chicago’s North Side at clubs like Kingston Mines, even after losing a leg to diabetes. He was filmed for Martin Scosese’s PBS series, “The Blues,” and kept on writing and performing up until his death.