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John "Piano Red," Williams The Albino of Beale Street

Updated on December 26, 2017
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Robert Odell, Jr. is the senior video editor of the film, Take Me Back to Beale, a chronicle of 100 years of Beale Street history.

John "Piano Red" Williams (center with hat and sunshades) was an albino, African American, barrelhouse style pianist who played on Beale Street in Memphis, TN. He played in clubs for many years before his recording debut in1969.
John "Piano Red" Williams (center with hat and sunshades) was an albino, African American, barrelhouse style pianist who played on Beale Street in Memphis, TN. He played in clubs for many years before his recording debut in1969. | Source

John "Piano Red" Williams aka Memphis Piano Red

John "Piano Red" Williams, also known as Memphis Piano Red, was an African American albino who was born in Germantown, Tennessee in 1904 (some sources say Williams was born in 1905).

What Is An Albino?

An albino is a person or animal that has an absence of pigment in the skin and hair (which are white) and the eyes (which are typically pink).

John "Piano Red" Williams:

  • Had ten other siblings (six played musical instruments)
  • Started playing piano at age 13 (he was taught by one of his sisters)
  • Was influenced by local Germantown piano blues players
  • Moved to Memphis in 1930 (often playing in Beale Street bars)
  • Played an upright piano

John "Piano Red" Williams was an albino, African American, barrelhouse style pianist who played only in the Memphis area and made his recording debut as late as 1969. He was born April 16 (some reports say in the year 1904 while others say 1905) in Germantown, Tennessee. John "Piano Red" died February 5, 1982 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sometimes Confused

John "Piano Red" Williams; who performed in Memphis, TN, is sometimes confused with Willie Lee Perryman, also an albino African American.

Willie Lee Perryman lived from 1911-1985. Perryman performed during his career as "Piano Red" and as "Dr. Feelgood." He was a self-taught pianist and, like John "Piano Red" Williams, played in the barrelhouse blues style. Barrelhouse blues was a loud, percussive type of blues, piano music, designed to be heard in noisy bars or taverns. Some music historians say that Perryman's 1950 recording "Rocking With Red" caused the popularization of the term rock and roll in Atlalnta.

Barrelhouse Blues

John "Piano Red" Williams played barrelhouse blues on Beale Street in Memphis, TN. Barrelhouse blues was a loud, percussive type of blues, piano music, designed to be heard in noisy bars or taverns

John "Piano Red " Williams, also called Memphis Piano Red, lived in Memphis, TN. He worked as a furniture mover and played barrelhouse blues piano after hours at clubs on Beale Street in Memphis, TN from 1930-1980.
John "Piano Red " Williams, also called Memphis Piano Red, lived in Memphis, TN. He worked as a furniture mover and played barrelhouse blues piano after hours at clubs on Beale Street in Memphis, TN from 1930-1980. | Source

John "Piano Red" Williams

In the docudrama Take Me Back To Beale (Book II) an actor portrays John "Piano Red" Williams; an albino who was born in Germantown, Tennessee in 1904 and who was also called Memphis Piano Red. Memphis Piano Red played piano blues on Beale Street from 1930-1980 in bars and clubs such as The Gray Mule.

Memphis Piano Red was an American barrelhouse style pianist who played on the Memphis scene for many years before his recording debut in1969.

The docudrama, TAKE ME BACK TO BEALE (Book II), reenacts John "Piano Red" Williams playing at The Gray Mule on Beale Street. In the film, John "Piano Red" Williams is playing the tune, Piano Red's Boogie. Piano Red's Boogie was a song made famous by another musician called "Piano Red", Willie Lee Perryman, of Atlanta, GA.

Born In Tennessee

John "Piano Red" Williams was born in Germantown, TN in 1904.
John "Piano Red" Williams was born in Germantown, TN in 1904.

Memphis Piano Red Was Born In Germantown, TN In 1904

John "Piano Red" Williams was born in Germantown, Tennessee in 1904.

The City of Germantown:

  • Began in 1833 as the hamlet of Pea Ridge
  • Was renamed Germantown in 1836
  • Was incorportated in 1841
  • Includes the site of the historic Nashoba Plantation
  • Was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War
  • Was decimated by Yellow Fever in the 1870's
  • Had a temporary name change to Neshoba during World War I.

Hoboing Helped To Develop His Unique Style

Memphis Piano Red hoboed and rode freight trains for more than 25 years.

While hoboing, Memphis Piano Red:

  • Lived in and visited various states
  • Developed his solid and vivacious piano sound
  • Developed his strong, blues laden vocals


Hoppin' Freights

While riding to a musical performance with Arne Brogger of the Memphis Blues Caravan, Memphis Piano Red saw a passing freight train and was quoted as saying, "That train reminds me of the Delta, hoppin' freights and sitting on top of the car ... watching my shadow, long and waivery, skipp'n across the field."

While Hoppin' Freights, John "Piano Red" Williams Would Often Be...

"...sitting on top of the car ... watching my shadow, long and waivery, skipp'n across the field."

John "Piano Red" Williams hoboed and rode freight trains for over 25 years.
John "Piano Red" Williams hoboed and rode freight trains for over 25 years.

Memphis Piano Red Traveled With The Memphis Blues Caravan

The Memphis Blues Caravan was designed to place pioneering blues legends, such as Memphis Piano Red, Furry Lewis, and Joe Willie Wilkins' together on national and international tours. It was the "brain child" of Arne Brogger of Memphis, Tennessee.


John "Piano Red" Williams is portrayed in a docudrama.

In the docudrama, "Take Me Back To Beale" (Book II), this actor is portraying the part of John "Piano Red" Williams playing at the Gray Mule Bar on Beale Street.
In the docudrama, "Take Me Back To Beale" (Book II), this actor is portraying the part of John "Piano Red" Williams playing at the Gray Mule Bar on Beale Street. | Source

Red Found Dead In 1980

In 1980 John "Piano Red" Wiliams was found dead in his Memphis home on Walker Street

  • Memphis Piano Red was found in his living room in front of his upright piano.
  • Memphis Piano Red had been beaten to death with the butt of his own shotgun.
  • Someone had tried to break in and had been confronted by Memphis Piano Red.
  • Somehow, the shotgun had been wrenched from Memphis Piano Red's hands.
  • John "Piano Red" Williams was killed and no one was ever charged.


Memphis Piano Red

John "Piano Red" Williams performed in many clubs and bars on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.
John "Piano Red" Williams performed in many clubs and bars on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. | Source
This actor is portraying the legendary John "Piano Red" Williams in the docudrama "Take Me Back To Beale" (Book II)
This actor is portraying the legendary John "Piano Red" Williams in the docudrama "Take Me Back To Beale" (Book II) | Source

Does the actor look like Memphis Piano Red?

Does the actor portraying John "Piano Red" Williams look like the real Memphis Piano Red?

See results

Mempis Piano Red and Guitar Slim

Memphis Piano Red was featured on the "Old Time Barrelhouse Blues" album with Guitar Slim. Guitar Slim was best known for the million-selling song, "The Things That I Used To Do", that was listed in The Rock and Roll hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

John "Piano Red" Williams played piano in bars, clubs, and saloons like the one shown in this early 1900's vintage photo of Tony's Saloon at 138 Beale.
John "Piano Red" Williams played piano in bars, clubs, and saloons like the one shown in this early 1900's vintage photo of Tony's Saloon at 138 Beale. | Source
A
Beale Street Memphis, TN:
Beale Street, Memphis, TN, USA

get directions

John "Piano Red" Williams could be seen playing his style of barrelhouse piano at many bars, clubs, and saloons on Beale Street in Memphis, TN.

Take Me Back To Beale, Book II (After The Red Ball). Dir. Carolyn Yancy-Gunn. Edited by Robert Odell, Jr. Perfs. Arthur Smith, Tony Patterson, CFA Graduates. DVD. CFA Productions, Inc. Archives

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Muchsuccess profile imageAUTHOR

    Robert Odell Jr 

    7 months ago from Memphis, Tennessee

    I am happy that you enjoyed this tidbit of Beale Street's musical history. Much success to you with your music.

  • Oztinato profile image

    Oztinato 

    7 months ago from Australia

    I love barrelhouse and boogie piano. I play some of Red's music at venues here in Australia.

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