His birth date may have been in doubt (he claimed he was born as early as 1905), but the slashing slide guitar skills of Homesick James Williamson were never in question. Many of his most satisfying recordings placed him in solo settings, where his timing eccentricities didn't disrupt the proceedings (though he made some fine band-backed waxings as well).
Williamson was playing guitar at age ten and soon ran away from his Tennessee home to play at fish fries and dances. His travels took the guitarist through Mississippi and North Carolina during the 1920s, where he crossed paths with Yank Rachell, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Boy Fuller, and Big Joe Williams.
Settling in Chicago during the 1930s, Williamson played local clubs and recorded for RCA Victor in 1937. The miles and gigs had added up before Williamson made some of his finest sides in 1952-1953 for Art Sheridan's Chance Records (including the classic "Homesick" that gave him his enduring stage name).
James also worked extensively as a sideman, backing harp great Sonny Boy Williamson in 1945 at a Chicago gin joint called The Purple Cat and during the 1950s with his cousin, slide master Elmore James (to whom Homesick was stylistically indebted). He also recorded with James during the 1950s. Homesick's own output included crashing 45s for Colt and USA in 1962, a fine 1964 album for Prestige, and four tracks on a Vanguard anthology in 1965.
Williamson recorded into the 1990s, issuing albums on Appaloosa and Earwig, and continued touring and making festival appearances well into the 2000s. Williamson's last public appearance was at a British blues festival in July of 2006; he died on December 13 of that year. Throughout his life -- and even when he was in his nineties -- there was nothing over-the-hill about the blues of Homesick James Williamson.