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VALERY, JOSEPH, JR. [LITTLE JOE BLUE]

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VALERY, JOSEPH, JR. [LITTLE JOE BLUE] (1934–1990). Joseph Valery, Jr., blues singer and guitarist, known as Little Joe Blue, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on September 23, 1934. He had five brothers and two sisters. The family home was across the river in Tallulah, Louisiana, and it was there that Joe spent the first seventeen years of his life and began to work in agriculture and in the local fish market.

In 1951 he moved to the Detroit area, where he obtained employment in the Lincoln–Mercury plant in Wayne. It was at this time that he began to be interested in music. However, he volunteered for the United States Army in 1953 and spent the next three years in the service, part of the time in Korea. When he left the army he returned to Detroit and got work in the Ford plant.

As music became more important to him, he appeared as a vocalist in talent shows and in some of Detroit's small clubs and bars, and eventually formed his own small group. He married in 1958 and had two children (Angela and Joseph Devone); however the marriage ended in divorce and he moved to Reno, Nevada, where his sisters lived. There he formed another band and played in local clubs. In 1961 he moved to Los Angeles to live with his aunt. He worked on construction or demolition sites or in car-washes, but at nights and on weekends he appeared in local clubs.

This led in 1963 to his first recording, a single for the small Nanc label. A session for Kent followed in 1964, but nothing was issued. However, in 1966 producer Fats Washington (who gave him the stage name Little Joe Blue) got him a session for Mel Alexander's Movin' label, at which he recorded "Dirty Work Going On." He attracted the attention of Chess Records in Chicago, who leased the Movin' single and re-issued it on their Checker label, providing Little Joe Blue with his only appearance (for just one week at Number 40) in the R&B charts. Still, he was now a national rather than a local name and was from this time on able to make his living from music.

Valery also began to play the guitar as well as sing. Further sessions, in Los Angeles in 1966 and in Chicago in 1967, produced three more singles on Checker, but they were not as successful. The tracks recorded in his final session for Chess (in 1967) remained unissued, as did those from a session for Kent in the same year. In 1968 Fats Washington introduced him to Jewel Records in Shreveport, and over the next four years Jewel issued five Little Joe Blue singles and an LP, recorded at sessions held variously in Los Angeles and Shreveport. In 1971 Valery also had an LP on Mel Alexander's Space label; from it singles were issued on Space, Sound Stage 7, and Kris.

At this time he went to live in Richmond, California. He had appeared at Fillmore West in San Francisco as early as 1968, but he began to consolidate his popularity with white blues fans with appearances at the Berkeley and Ann Arbor blues festivals in 1971, at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1974 (two tracks from that show were issued on a Soul Set single), and again at the Berkeley and San Francisco festivals in 1975 (one title from the latter appearance was issued on a Solid Smoke LP). But most of his performances were still in the clubs and bars of Northern California and the Southern states. Singles on Elco and Miles Ahead, both produced by Miles Grayson, also appeared in the mid-1970s.

In 1975 Valery toured Europe with a package show called American Blues Legends '75; a couple of titles were recorded in London by Big Bear Records. He made later trips to Europe in 1982 as part of the San Francisco Blues Festival (three tracks were issued on a Paris Album LP) and in 1986 with the Chicago Blues Festival '86 (recordings made in Holland have appeared on a Black & Blue CD), but these and a tour with the James Brown Revue in 1975 were highlights of a career largely played out in the black clubs of the West Coast and the South. Joe continued to record with reasonable regularity: singles on Kris, Platinum City, and Misipy (the last with Dino Spells); an LP and a spin-off single on Empire; and two LPs (each of which gave birth to a single) for Leon Haywood's Evejim label kept his name before his public.

In 1977, after a period in Kansas City, Missouri, he made his base in Dallas. He performed regularly throughout Texas. Eventually he moved back to Reno, where he died of stomach cancer on April 22, 1990. It would not be unfair to describe Little Joe Blue as a journeyman blues singer. Although by no means a star—and peripheral as a Texan—he was able to maintain a full-time career in music for over thirty years because he was always able to provide his African-American audience with the kind of show they wanted. He is often unfairly described as a B. B. King imitator, but his records show a fine singer who was always able to find good songs to record. He never found it necessary to compromise his basic style to win a wider audience, and as a result his work has an integrity that more popular bluesmen have sometimes lost. The Very Best of Little Joe Blue, a collection of his recordings, was released in 1996.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Daniel Ray Bacon, "Little Joe Blue," Juke Blues 20 (Summer 1990). Dallas Morning News, November 28, 1985. Norman Darwen, Blues & Rhythm 52 (May–June 1990). Lee Hildebrand, "Little Joe Blue," Blues Unlimited 66 (October 1969). Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Keith Tillman, "Little Joe Blue," Blues Unlimited 53 (May 1968). Bez Turner, "Little Joe Blue," Blues Unlimited 114 (July–August 1975).

Ray Astbury

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Ray Astbury, "VALERY, JOSEPH, JR. [LITTLE JOE BLUE]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fva45), accessed July 31, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 29, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.