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Mighty Joe Young
Mighty Joe Young
Spinal Operation
March 24, 1999
Age 71

Mighty Joe Young 
   North Side story 

                                                    By Tony Russell  

                                                    Burly blues singer and guitarist Mighty Joe 
                                                    Young, who has died aged 71, was 
                                                    described by his fellow bluesman Jimmy 
                                                    Dawkins as 'one of the Midwest's most 
                                                    gifted guitarists and Chicago's best'. That 
                                                    was in 1970. If the next three decades 
                                                    never confirmed the status Dawkins 
                                                    claimed for him, it was not because Young 
                                                    lacked talent or commitment. Since 1986 
                                                    he seldom appeared in public and only as 
                                                    a singer, having lost sensation in his 
                                                    fingers after surgery for a pinched neck 
                                                    nerve. His death in hospital was caused 
                                                    by complications after an operation which 
                                                    he hoped would restore his playing ability. 

                                                    Born in Louisiana, Young grew up in 
                                                    Milwaukee. In his youth, he spent some 
                                                    time in Los Angeles as an amateur boxer 
                                                    before turning to music. In 1955, he moved 
                                                    to Chicago and spent a decade and a half 
                                                    scuffling in blues clubs, working as a 
                                                    sideman with Jimmy Rogers and Otis 
                                                    Rush, making occasional singles for small 
                                                    labels and acquiring along the way the 
                                                    sobriquet Mighty, an acknowledgment of 
                                                    his boxer's physique and an allusion to the 
                                                    1940s monster movie Mighty Joe Young. 

                                                    At the end of the 1960s, he played second 
                                                    guitar on West Side Soul and Black 
                                                    Magic, historic sessions for the Delmark 
                                                    label by singer-guitarist Magic Sam. His 
                                                    own debut album for Delmark, Blues With 
                                                    A Touch Of Soul, followed soon after, and 
                                                    he also impressed with a dynamic 
                                                    appearance at the 1969 Chicago Blues 
                                                    Festival with his employer Koko Taylor. 

                                                    On Blues With A Touch Of Soul, Young 
                                                    displayed his command of long, rambling 
                                                    single-string guitar lines in what would 
                                                    come to be called the West Side style, as 
                                                    well as an appealingly grainy voice and a 
                                                    predilection for the crisp orchestration of 
                                                    1960s soul music. 'I like a beautiful 
                                                    arrangement,' he remarked, 'not a 
                                                    traditional sound that's the same all the 

                                                    The Chicago blues fixer Willie Dixon, who 
                                                    often used him on sessions, agreed: 'He 
                                                    has a traditional sound which he is able to 
                                                    mix with a very modern style.' Young's 
                                                    career was shadowed by the greater 
                                                    success of younger, sexier performers like 
                                                    fellow West Siders Magic Sam, Otis Rush 
                                                    and Luther Allison. 

                                                    Young was a pioneer in bringing blues to 
                                                    the North Side, a section of Chicago that 
                                                    was more attractive to white music fans 
                                                    than the sometimes volatile black 
                                                    enclaves on the West and South Side. 
                                                    Many college students remember Young 
                                                    at North Side blues clubs like Biddy 
                                                    Mulligan's, Alice's Revisited or the Wise 
                                                    Fools Pub, as well as his appearances at 
                                                    the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. 

                                                    Preferring to be close to his family, he 
                                                    only occasionally played out of town or 
                                                    overseas, though he was well received on 
                                                    visits to Europe, where he cut an album, 
                                                    Bluesy Josephine, in France in 1976. He 
                                                    also recorded albums for Ovation and 
                                                    Sonet and, most recently, a set for Blind 
                                                    Pig called Mighty Man, with his son, Joe 
                                                    Young Jr, playing the rhythm guitarist's 
                                                    role he himself had so often filled. 

                                                    Mighty Joe Young, blues musician, born 
                                                    September 23, 1927; died March 25, 

    Blues Legend  MIGHTY JOE YOUNG  Passes Away At Age Seventy-One 

 Born: September 23, 1927 Shreveport, Louisiana 
 Died: March 24, 1999 Chicago, Illinois 

We sadly send news that American blues icon, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, passed away 
on March 25, 1999 in Chicago, Illinois. Young was in the hospital since 
February. He passed away from phenomena after complications from a spinal 
operation he hoped would restore his ability to play guitar again. He was 71. 

Mighty Joe Young was one of the first blues artists to break through on the 
 North Side of Chicago in the very early 1970s, playing to packed clubs and 
 becoming one of the premier and best-known touring blues artists on the 
 festival and university circuits. Between tours in 1986 he had taken his 
 band into the studio on his own money and started to lay down tracks to 
 finally do a recording - his way. But after recording only three numbers he 
shelved the project when in the fall of 1986 he decided to have surgery on 
 a pinched nerve in his neck. After the surgery he suffered complications 
and didn't heal from the operation until after a year after the operation. 
 It took a year of rehab before he regained his balance for walking, but he 
 never fully recovered the sensation in his fingers to play guitar. As a 
 result he made only rare appearances over the last decade. His greatest 
 hope was to regain his ability to play guitar as he did before his first 

Joe Young was still mighty in his seventieth year. His regular work-outs at 
the health club helped maintain his barrel-chested former boxer's physique. 
Always a strong family man, he has made his recovery surrounded by children 
and grandchildren. He made appearances again as a singer and was on the 
schedule for the 1997 Chicago Blues Festival. 

Born September 23, 1927 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Young also lived for a 
time in Milwaukee and Los Angeles, where in the late 40s he was an amateur 
boxer. He 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 
tiny Jiffy label. 

The next year he came to Chicago where he worked with Joe Little and his 
Heart Breakers, Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold and Otis Rush. He eventually 
recorded a few more singles for Atomic H, Fire (where in 1961 he was given 
the "Mighty" moniker), Webcor, Celtex and U.S.A. and appeared on disc with 
blues titans Magic Sam (on both Delmark LPs), Willie Dixon, Albert King, 
Jimmy Dawkins, Tyrone Davis (including his hit "Can I Change My Mind") and 
Koko Taylor (on Chess and Alligator). In 1969, his sensational appearance 
with Koko at Chicago's first Grant Park Blues Festival was an enormous 
boost to both of their careers. In typically humble fashion Joe Young plays 
down his role as one of the first to bring blues to North Side clubs, but 
back when blues was new to young, white audiences, he was a huge draw at 
Alice's Revisited, Minstrels, Biddy Mulligan's and Wise Fools where he 
played 12 straight New Year's Eve engagements. His memorable appearances at 
the Ann Arbor Festivals in the early '70s solidified his hold on the 
festival and university circuits, and by the mid-1980s Young's successful 
career had taken him all over North America and Europe. 

Mighty Joe Young will be remembered for his pioneering work as one of the 
first Chicago singer/guitarists to meld soul and blues in tight, fresh, 
horn-laden arrangements. His music will continue to spark memories of 
powerful good-times, nightclubs jam-packed to the rafters, and 
Chicago-style soul-blues. Young is survived by his son, Joe Young, Jr., and 
other family members. 




Born: September 23, 1927; Died March 24,1999
Although physical problems have curtailed his guitar playing in recent years, 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 onstage 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). -- Bill Dahl, All-Music Guide