Take a Cadillac ride through the Southern States and you’ll hear a thousand flavours of music on the breeze. Listen to Neckbone Stew and you’ll hear them expertly stirred into one record. “It’s a mixture of all the spices and good stuff you’ll find in most Southern kitchens,” says the award-winning US bluesman Big Daddy Wilson. “To make a good stew, you need a little bit of everything, and this was the idea I went with for my new CD. A beautiful mélange of blues, spiritual, roots, soul and reggae. I just felt like mixing it up this time.”
Released in 2017 on Ruf Records, Neckbone Stew is the latest twist in a fascinating life story. Wilson was raised a “real country boy” in Edenton, North Carolina, but fate had other plans. By 1979, the young Southerner had escaped the grinding poverty of his hometown, enlisting in the US Army and relocating to Germany, where he fell for the raw power of live blues. “I met the blues here,” he remembers. “I didn’t know what the blues was before. It was here that I found a part of me that was missing for so long in my life.”
Wilson had sung in church as a child – a precaution by his mother and grandma to keep him “away from drugs and off the streets” – but his natural shyness meant he’d never considered stepping onstage. Now, he discovered a talent for songwriting and an unmistakable voice that soon won praise from the iconic Eric Bibb: “As soon as you hear Big Daddy Wilson’s voice, whether speaking or singing, you hear his southern country roots. It’s a voice baptised in the river of African-American song, a voice with the power to heal”.
That’s a sentiment echoed by the thousands who have watched the Big Daddy Wilson Trio perform on stages across the USA, Europe and Southern Hemisphere over the last two decades. Working from his adopted home in Germany, meanwhile, the expat bandleader has also earned acclaim for studio albums like 2009’s Love Is The Key, 2011’s acoustic Thumb A Ride, 2013’s I’m Your Man and 2015’s Time. And yet, according to the man in the hat, Neck Bone Stew is the jewel in his back catalogue. “For me,” he says, “it sits on top. The latest is always the greatest. I was in the mood, like John L. Hooker said.”