Local Music Legend, Willie Pooch, Passes at the Age of 72

Born William Johnson, local blues and music legend Willie Pooch passed away on Wednesday from complications related to Diabetes. Willie was 72 years old. Willie was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and used to hang out with the one and only Elvis Presley when they were boys. Says Willie:

“I remember playin’ baseball with Elvis. There was always something different about that boy always somethin’ different”

From AllAboutJazz:

When he was thirteen Willie and his family moved to Chicago’s Southside where Willie’s “gospel roots budded blues flowers.” Studying with Luther Allison, Willie began his dream of becoming the next great Blues singer. Willie worked in the stockyards during the day and played blues at night, meeting and playing with many blues legends.

Willie recalls one of his first significant jobs,

“I remember bein’ twenty-one (21) and switching from lead guitar to bass so I could perform with blues greats like Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, Luther Allison, Magic Sam & Muddy Waters, yeah, yeah, Muddy.”

During the ’50s Willie lived the Blues – day-in, day out – in Chicago, or on a tour in the Midwest. Willie ‘felt’ what real blues were, he felt where they came from, and he understood why and how they were sang.

“There’s lots of blues to be learned out on the road,” Willie notes. “Three months at a time, five guys in a beat-up station wagon, Chevrolet station wagon I believe it was… I tell you that’ll teach a guy a lot about the blues.”

In 1962 Willie was traveling with Kansas City Red when Sam’s Bar & Grill in Columbus Ohio “recruited” him to be their house band and where he very affectionately became known as the “Godfather of Blues.”

“Godfather of Blues” at night, and during the day: it was the Buckeye Steel Mill (”Buckeye Still Mill Blues” pays tribute), a job he held for 30 years and 30 days until his retirement in 1999.

Willie continued to perform regularly in the Columbus area after his retirement in various venues throughout the city with his band, “Willie Pooch and the Upsetters”. Later in his careers, Willie teamed up with local jazz legend and B3 maestro, Tony Monaco, to record an album called: Willie Pooch’s Funk-N-Blues.

Willie will be missed in the Columbus music scene…Thanks for the memories Willie! Here are some clips of Willie performing live…


  1. So long my friend, you’ll always be in my thoughts, good times were had, always!!

  2. I am so sad! I started listening to Wilile in the 1970s and I think he is the first person to ever steer me towards listening to blues music and I haven’t stopped since. I knew Willie a long time. My son Jack Proctor played with Willie these past few years. A legend has passed, but I know he’s singing up in heaven now! God Bless You, Pooch.

  3. Safe journey, Pooch-Man. I’ll never forget the first time I saw you perform, at the Dell. I was smitten by the blues, and the man who sang them. That was twenty plus years ago. I thank you for the good times- rest in peace. And oh yeah, mother’s day is Sunday .

  4. Willie, like thousands of others, your passing will leave a giant hole in my life. No one else will ever be able to fill this space because you were the very definition of “one of a kind”. You never bought into any of the “Star” crap and you always put the music first and above yourself. I’ll never forget the time in 1985 when I asked you “Willie, if I could give you anything in world, what would you want?” You said “You know, I’d like to find a place to catch some really nice catfish.” I hope that now you’re catching the biggest catfish you’ve ever seen, and I hope you’re catching them all day long everyday. Someday we’ll fish together.

  5. Willie was the best I’ve ever heard. He would always sing for me my favorite – “Ain’t nobody’s business, but me and my baby.” What a loss for us all.

  6. Mr. Willie Pooch, WOW!!!! What a great person, beyond being a great blues man!!! There are a lot of people singing and playing the blues but, none like Mr. Pooch!!! I first heard Willie when i was in the ninth grade and would sneak in local venues to hear him and Dave Workman play the blues. Willie and i became close friends over the years. I will never forget the conversations we would have while riding to and fro. Like the one he told me about Albert King nick naming him “Rabbit”. So many great times!! When i heard the news of Willie passing i was on the boat fishing, all i could was weep. I will miss Mr. Pooch like countless others. Eventually the “tears will eventually stop falling from my eyes, they will always fall in my heart”!! So long to my buddy. The greatest Blues Man!!

  7. RIP Willie. You were always the best and will always be remembered. Whether it was when I was a snot nose college student spilling my beer on your suede shoes or recently letting my wife and I get a picture with you on our anniversary.
    You WILL be missed.

  8. willie was nicks father i grew up with nick and always remeber walkin threw the house and seeing pic of willie and nick telling me storys about him and being n the blues~ rip!

  9. I will never forget the hundreds and hundreds of hours just sitting and talking to my dear friend. He told me once…it’s not always what you play….because sometimes it’s what you don’t play that makes the song. Waking up from having a kidney removed….there sat my dear friend at the foot of my hospital bed…..with his….’Heeeeey’. Thank you for all that you taught me my friend….I will never forget leaning against each other on stage….while he made up a blues song….just because I asked …on the spot. I love you my friend…..and I miss you dearly….and now….The thrill is gone.
    Duane Ray O’Neal
    Or as Willie would call me…..’Wang-dang-doodle’ ! See ya at the House like we promised !

  10. Will , I loved you from the first moment we talked , I sent you a wine at the thirsty ear and ended up making breakfast for you and the rest is hstory. I was by your side and you by mine my friend on earth and when I get to heaven too, You were a true friend. I love you so ….I miss you . Untill we meet again in blues heaven…. Love di (you were a beautiful person to know),how you blessed me!!

  11. I didn’t know Willie personally..but I shot the concert that the last video clip came..About a woman in the foodstamp line.The whole show was a classic. Through a mutal friend I was able to get a copy of it to his famliy…they loved it and that was cool. Wish I would have gotten to know him..a real bluesman..it don’t get no realer…

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