Billy Branch- The Chicago Winds Nemesis -By Catherine Hernandez-Faber

Posted on 8/07/2010 by Catherine

When the wind blows in Chicago it means one of two things. Nature is assuring us that Chicago has a nickname of the "Windy City" for a reason, or Natures rival is blowing his harp, his way, with his music, and your gonna stop in your tracks, listen as his sound howls around you if not right through to the heartbeat of your soul. Whose wind can rival natures you ask? It can only be one person and that is Billy Branch.
Born in Chicago and then at a young age moved. Growing up in Los Angeles, California. When Billy returned to Chicago, he was a few weeks shy of his eighteenth birthday in the summer of 1969. Coming back to Chicago with aspiring thoughts to become a Lawyer. Billy did attend the University of Illinois, where he majored and graduated in Political Science.
It was in Los Angeles, that at the age of ten, at a corner Woolworth Drugstore Billy bought a ten cent Harmonica. Not knowing that the Harmonica would be his destiny of becoming one of the Premier and Legendary Chicago Harp Masters. That eventually would take his passion for performing and informing all over the world his talent and knowledge of the History of the Blues.
Most Monday's you will find me on the South Side of Chicago. In a small, club called Artis's hearing Billy play his sound with his band, The Sons of the Blues. Artis's is where what most Musicians who have a "Home Spot" refer to as a House Party. At any given time during the night you never know who let alone where they are from will walk in the door to pay respect to this Man who by nature is one of the most Charismatic musicians you will find out there. Now don't get me wrong, just as Chicago's own wind can be
the most gentle, it can blow fierce. And depending on which side of the fence your on, it will blow you over.

I had a chance to talk with this Legend in the making, whom I've had the privilege of knowing and listening blow his wind for nearly fifteen years now. In asking the questions I had ready for him, it was simply fascinating to listen to him answer. As we laughed and spoke, I divulged into the History that was appearing and unfolding before me.

Billy, stepped onto the Chicago Blues Scene during a time when all the Greats were becoming Greats, or just getting noticed. He was young and new to the Blues. Not just as a Musician but also to the music itself. Which seeing where he is at now, where he has been and knowing who he has played with simply states that picking up that dime store Harmonica, was destiny meant for Billy Branch.

  • CHF: Billy when you first heard the Blues, How old were you? Do you remember who you were watching and listening to?
  • BB: I was seventeen, just shy of turning eighteen and it was a Festival and on Stage was Willie Dixon. I didn't know it at the time. I didn't know Blues or who I was watching play. I watched as who now I know as Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Junior Wells and Carey Bell who eventually I replaced six years later in Willie Dixon's Chicago All Stars.
  • CHF: Your first break came out of contest where you beat Little Mac Simmons at the Green Bunny Club. What was that like?
  • BB: That night was when the crowd went wild. The challenge was to play and follow Little Mac Simmons and I did. I started with "Rainy Night in Georgia". I had a natural ear for music so it was easy to follow and pick up songs. I was just a college kid that no one knew stepping up on stage. I did win and the crowd went wild shouting give him the money and Little Mac Simmons kept going from the stage to the managers. After the end of the night when I walked off the stage I was approached by the Blues "Who" of Bruce Iglauer and Dick Sherman. I ended up signing on with Bruce at Alligator Records and recording.
  • CHF: You were able to play with the Legend himself, Mr. Willie Dixon. How did that come about?
  • BB: The first time I played for Willie was when a college friend fixed up a chance for me to play a session with Mc Kinley Mitchell at Chess Records. He liked me enough and asked me to come back when Carey Bell had to go out of town. I did and eventually I replaced Carey and stayed with Willie for the next six years.
  • CHF: What was it like to play for the late great Willie Dixon?
  • BB: During that time with Willie I learned and I grew. I went in thinking I knew how to play the harmonica. Willie showed me how much I didn't know. Those years were probably the foundation of who I am as a Harmonica player today. The advice, time and education that Willie Dixon gave to me, is the inspiration that I have to share with others. Willie was the most patient and informative easiest Musician that I had ever met and worked for. He at that time was the most influential of social and political insight to the Blues.
  • CHF: You have played all over the world. Where do you like to play and Where would you like to go that you haven't yet?
  • BB: I enjoy playing in Japan and South America. The people are so appreciative for the Blues and give the warmest appreciation. My hope is to play Africa. I simply would love to have that opportunity and be invited to bring my style of Blues there.
  • CHF: In closing, what would you like to see as the Legacy of Billy Branch?
  • BB: That I was an Ambassador to the Blues. That I was able to spread and share the News of the Blues. As a Musician and Educator that Blues is the Most powerful and greatest music on the planet.
I believe that Billy Branch is fulfilling his Legacy.

Peace, Blessings & Blues!

To read more about Billy check his website out at

All Photos by Catherine Hernandez-Faber All Rights Protected

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