WEBB, WILLIE E., JR. [JITTERBUG]
WEBB, WILLIE E., JR. [JITTERBUG] (1941–1997). Jitterbug Webb, guitarist, vocalist, and composer–arranger, was born Willie E. Webb, Jr., in San Antonio on September 28, 1941. He was the only child of Guidie Bell Evans and Willie E. Webb, Sr.
Webb, a San Antonio blues legend, received the nickname "Jitterbug" from his grandmother because as a small child he was very energetic and jumped around a lot. His mother played piano. When he was nine, she encouraged him to take trumpet and guitar lessons, but he liked the saxophone best. Jitterbug grew up singing in the youth choir at the West End Baptist Church in San Antonio, but like his mother he enjoyed other music such as blues and jazz.
He got his start as a teenager listening to black stars who performed in San Antonio—Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, and Lester Young, among others—and performing with local musicians such as saxophonist Spot Barnett. Jitterbug formed his own band, the Five Stars, in 1955; with them he played the guitar and sang. The group became popular in San Antonio during the late 1950s, playing in such places as nightclubs, military bases, and dance halls. In 1956, when Webb was fifteen, the group recorded two songs for Don Robey's Duke-Peacock Records in Houston. About 1958 he was hired by a San Antonio band, Charlie and the Jives. In the early 1960s the Five Stars began to travel outside of Texas. Jitterbug met Ike Turner, sat in with Ike and Tina Turner on a show they were performing in Los Angeles, and, after playing the whole show, was hired on the spot as their lead guitarist. Thereafter, Jitterbug played lead on the show until Ike appeared, and then he would switch to rhythm guitar.
He later returned to San Antonio and began playing locally again. In 1968 he received a call from former bandmembers of Ike Turner's who were appearing in Houston under the name Sam and the Good-Timers and was asked to join them. After returning to the West Coast with them he began working with Johnny Otis. At this time Jitterbug recorded with Lowell Fulson and Charles Brown for Savoy Records and was offered a job by Little Richard, but decided to stay with the Good-Timers.
While playing with the Good-Timers at the Soul'd Out Club in Los Angeles, the group was spotted by the Monkees, who hired them to tour with the American group in 1970. Jitterbug was able to tour foreign countries and appear on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Joey Bishop Show with Lou Rawls, and Music Scene, hosted by David Steinberg. After his stint with the Monkees, Jitterbug joined the Johnny Otis Revue and toured Europe twice.
He returned to San Antonio again in the early 1980s. He continued to play music on the weekends but also opened a bar called Bug's Pub, a liquor store called Webb's Liquors, and a dry-cleaners called Deli-Care Cleaners. In 1987 he formed a band, the Super Crew, in which he combined young and veteran musicians. Jitterbug also began writing his own songs at this time—"That's The Way Life Is," "I'm So Happy," and "Life Goes On Without You," for instance.
During the April 1994 Fiesta San Antonio, Jitterbug was crowned Blues King and received a proclamation from the city of San Antonio signed by the mayor. He died of cancer in San Antonio on October 31, 1997.
All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed February 24, 2009. Living Blues, March–April 1998.