This week marks the passing of blues guitar legend Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958). One of the most influential guitarists to have existed, Broonzy began playing blues guitar in the 1920s after moving from Arkansas to Chicago, releasing his first record – "Big Bill's Blues"/"House Rent Stomp" – in 1927 on early blues/jazz label Paramount Records.
Often credited with bringing the blues to Britain, Broonzy – a leading voice of Chicago blues during the 1930s and '40s – rose to international prominence during the '50s while touring Europe, effectively reversing his ailing fortunes as an artist and further cementing his place in the annals of guitar history.
As the guitar continued to grow in popularity on both sides of the Atlantic during the post-war folk revival years, a vast number of low-key clubs and bars opened up, with Broonzy becoming a star on the circuit. Bringing us closer to the intimate underground music scene of yesteryear, this short film titled Low Light and Blue Smoke perfectly captures the essence of the blues legend at the height of his influence.
Filmed by Belgian couple Yannick and Margo Bruynoghe (Broonzy's friends and acting managers for a while), this video of the blues pioneer playing his Martin 000-28 acoustic guitar in an underground club was shown on UK television. Subsequently, it proved to be highly influential by way of introducing a new generation of budding British guitar heroes to the blues – including a young Eric Clapton and Ray Davies of The Kinks.
Discover more about the fabled bluesman in Bob Riesman’s book I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy.
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Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.