Junkyard Blues, Willie Houston

Another treasure I found in some old shoots. 

I met Willie Houston at a music festival in Empire Colorado that I was photographing.  Actually I saw him out and about in the crowd and knew there was “something about him.”  He had a poise, a dignity that is seldom seen.

I didn’t know who he was until he went on stage and blew me away with some of the best blues I’ve ever heard. I was photographing the festival for a publication called What’s Doing in Denver and somehow it evolved from that moment of photographing him on stage to working with him quite extensively.

One of the things about Willie is he was well into his eighties when I saw him climb on that stage.  He hadn’t slowed down.  There was also a crew there filming a documentary on his life and music.  It was referred to as Junkyard Blues, not because the music was junk but because Willie owned and lived in a junkyard (a bit like on the old show Sanford and Sons.)

Willie spent his entire life on the stage playing his heart out, but it wasn’t until his later years that his music finally got the recognition it deserved…. which was around the time I met him.  He came to be considered on a par with the greats in blues such as Muddy Waters and BB King.  

If there is a lesson to be learned from Willie Houston, it’s never give up.  He told me once that you always have to give your best performance… that you never know when the right person is going to be in the audience.

That finally happened for Willie, but not until the last years of his life.  It’s a tragedy for the world that his music wasn’t pushed out to the mainstream decades earlier.  

I consider it an honor to have met him and worked with him as much as I did.

Willie Houston and producer Bob Merco holding a copy of the documentary he did on his life

Willie Houston on stage

Willie Houston holding a guitar in his junkyard, where much of his music was composed

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