Alec Rice Miller was born into a sharecropper’s family around 1897 in Mississippi and travelled from town to town trying to eke out a living. By the mid-30s he was playing in blues clubs with legendary figures Elmore James and Robert Johnson.
By the mid-30s he was playing in blues clubs with legendary figures Elmore James and Robert Johnson.
Naming himself after the Chicago-based harmonica player John Lee Williamson (who recorded for RCA in the late Thirties and early Forties before being murdered on his way home from a bar gig), he earned a regular spot on a noon-hour radio show called King Biscuit Time (sponsored by King Biscuit Flour) on Arkansas station KFFA.
He signed to Checker Records in the early 50s, releasing Fattening Frogs For Snakes to much acclaim.
In his nine years of recording with Checker, he cut some 58 titles, around half of which were released on singles.
Although he was known only regionally in the US, his records were sought after overseas, and in 1963 Williamson visited the UK and recorded with The Yardbirds and The Animals before returning to the US and returning to King Biscuit Time in 1964.
Williamson’s alcoholism aggravated the tuberculosis he had endured all his life and he began to cough up blood during his performances.
On 24 May 1965 he failed to turn up at KFFA for his regular radio spot, and when staff from the station went to his boarding house in Helena, Arkansas they found he had suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep.