Willie Kent (February 24, 1936 – March 2, 2006) was an American blues singer, bassist and songwriter.
Born in Inverness, Mississippi, Kent arrived in Chicago in 1952. A day job as a truck driver gave him time to watch and learn from the blues greats he already admired — Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. By 1957 he was lending his vocal talents to several local groups using vocal skills he had learnt at church. “My mother she didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t do nothing but go to church. We sang in the choir. So that’s where it came from,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2002.
He bought himself a guitar, and in 1959 through guitarist friend Willie Hudson, linked up with the band Ralph and the Red Tops, acting as driver and manager and sometimes joining them onstage to sing. He made a deal with Hudson, letting him use the new guitar in trade for lessons on how to play it. One night’s show was decisive: the band’s bass player arrived too drunk to play, and because the band had already spent the club’s deposit, they couldn’t back out of the gig; so Willie Kent made his debut as a bass player, on the spot. He never looked back.
From that point on, his credits as a musician read like a "Who’s Who" of Chicago blues. After the Red Tops, he played bass with several bands around the city and stopped in often for Kansas City Red’s reknowned "Blue Monday" parties. He was increasingly serious about his music and formed a group with guitarists Joe Harper and Joe Spells and singer Little Wolf. By 1961, he was playing bass behind Little Walter, and by the mid-60’s was sitting in with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Junior Parker. Toward the end of the 60’s, he joined Arthur Stallworth and the Chicago Playboys as their bass player, worked briefly with Hip Linkchain, then played bass behind Jimmy Dawkins. He cut his first album with fellow bluesman Willie James Lyons in 1975.
After a series of heart ailments forced Kent to undergo triple bypass surgery in 1989, he spent his recovery examining his life and career, finally abandoning his longtime trucking job in favor of pursuing music full-time. I'm What You Need, his first solo LP in 14 years, soon followed on the Big Boy label and proved the first in a flurry of releases.
Here's "Somebody Got To Go" from Willie Kent's 2004 album "Blues And Trouble."
He really hit his stride as the impressive and influential leader of Willie Kent and the Gents, playing blues that kept its authentic Mississippi Delta edge. “So many people now are playing so much funk, it doesn’t sound like the blues,” he would later complain. A string of outstanding albums for labels such as Delmark and Wolf kept his sound alive and won critical acclaim as well as ten W. C. Handy awards.
On his website Kent summed up his music succinctly. “You can dance to it or just let it wash over you . . . This music touches you where it hurts, then heals you. In short, it is the blues.”
In early 2005, Kent was diagnosed with colon cancer, but continued his busy live schedule in spite of chemotherapy treatments. He lost his battle with the disease in March 2006 in Englewood, California, aged 70. (Info edited from various sources)