“Forrest City Joe” Pugh

July 10, 1926 – April 3, 1960

Recording history: late 1940’s for Aristocrat (pre-Checker/Chess), late 1950’s for Atlantic

Also recorded with: N/A

Important/historic recordings: “Memory of Sonny Boy”, “A Woman On Every Street”

Random fact: Though thought of mainly as a disciple of the great John Lee Williamson AKA Sonny Boy Williamson #1, Joe was highly regarded as one of THE top players from his generation. So good in fact, that Chicago blues legend Louis Myers (who was a member of the band “The Aces” and played guitar behind Little Walter, Junior Wells & Sonny Boy Williamson #2 in the 1950’s & 1960’s) is quoted as saying “Oh man, Forrest City Joe was rough! He’s the baddest harp player I ever saw. Yeah, ain’t nobody as bad as Forrest City Joe.” . . . high praise indeed!!

About: Born Joe Bennie Pugh in Hughes, AR. Starting playing local parties & juke joints in the area as a boy. Throughout the early- & mid-1940’s Joe hobo’ed around Arkansas playing juke joints, and even pairing with blues artist Big Joe Williams in the greater St. Louis area. In the late 1940’s he started to play in Chicago, an area he would eventually move to before the end of the decade.

While he only made one recording session up until this point (for the Aristocrat label – which was the Chess Brothers’ label before it was named Checker or Chess), he was regarded as one of the top harmonica players of the time amongst blues musicians. He was able to make one more recording (after moving back to Arkansas) in 1959 for Atlantic, not long before his untimely passing.

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “Aristocrat Of The Blues”” – Chess/MCA (2CDs of early Chess recordings, w/one Forrest City Joe song “Memory of Sonny Boy”)
  • “Harmonica Blues – Blowing From Memphis to Chicago” – Saga (cool harmonica retrospective, w/one Forrest City Joe song “Lonesome Day Blues”)
  • “Roots Of The Blues” – NewWorld (Delta & Gospel roots compilation, w/one Forrest City Joe song “You Gotta Cut That Out”)

I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at:

blues harmonica, blues harp, lessons, history