Jimmy Lee Williams

Hoot Your Belly

A soybean, peanut, and watermelon farmer from Worth County, Georgia, Williams never had much of a musical career, but he could wail the blues like he meant them. Hoot Your Belly, a collection of songs recorded in 1977 and 1982 by George Mitchell, is about the only material Williams ever recorded before he passed away in the early ’90s. These same tunes originally came out on vinyl as Rock on Away from Here, but good luck finding that one.

Belly, a much more accessible record, is the fifth in Fat Possum’s George Mitchell series, which has included magnificent, raw recordings from the likes of R.L. Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell. But Williams never got to jam with Jon Spencer or see one of his tunes covered by the Rolling Stones — success for him was as distant as Kathmandu.

That doesn’t mean his music isn’t worthwhile. Williams’ most striking feature is his ancient, backwoods howl, perhaps generated in his sizable gut. His guitar playing, meanwhile, is about as rough as it gets, but that only adds to the off-the-cuff, recorded-in-a-barn feel of these traditional tunes. “Rock on Away from Here” has a boogie-woogie groove and a hooky chorus: Going down to the river/Going to get me a rocking chair/Well now good lord take me/I’m going to rock away from here. “Step It Up and Go,” a simplistic rhythm guitar workout, is another charmer — Williams’ version is very messy, a bit silly, and completely enjoyable. He hums through many of these songs, sometimes perhaps when he can’t remember the words. But his humming is just as catchy, and it only adds to the ebullient quality of this superb collection of songs from the obscurest of talented bluesmen.

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