Katie Webster - Biography
By J Poet
Katie Webster was one of the great female piano players of the 50s and 60s, an underrated musician who contributed her powerful, rolling sound to more than 500 singles for various labels in the 50s and 60s, including Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love.” She was a member of Otis Redding’s touring band in 1965, but left music for a decade to care for her ailing patents in Oakland, California. She returned to music in time to make about a dozen albums for Arhoolie, Alligator and several European labels in the ‘80s. She was finally getting the recognition she deserved when she suffered a stroke while on tour in Greece in 1993. She lost the use of her left hand and almost all of her eyesight, but stayed on the road until her death in 1999.
Katie Webster was born in Houston, Texas, in 1936 and grew up playing piano. He parents were religious and only let her play gospel and classical music, keeping the piano locked when they weren’t at home. Like many children she listened to a radio under the covers at night, soaking up blues, R&B and jazz. When he parents moved to California, she moved in with an aunt in Louisiana. She started playing sessions when she was 15. Jay Miller of Excello Records and Eddie Shuler of Goldband Records used her on hundreds recordings in the 1950s and 1960s, and she recorded with Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, and Clifton Chenier to name only a few. In 1964, Otis Redding saw her playing with her band The Uptighters and hired her for his touring band. She also was the opening act on his tour.
She tickles the ivories on Live At The Whiskey A-Go-Go (1968 Stax/Atlantic) but was pregnant and unable to tour with Redding on the 1967 jaunt that took his life. She was devastated ands when he parents fell ill, she spent the next decade taking care of them and her child. In 1982 she appeared at several blues festivals in Europe and went over like gangbusters. He mix of boogie-woogie, New Orleans R&B, swamp pop, bayou blues, and soul blew people away. He gigs at The Chicago Blues Festival, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Newport Folk Festival and San Francisco Blues Festival created a mighty buzz in the blues community. Two albums she made with the tiny roots music label Arhoolie You Know That's Right (1985 Arhoolie) and I Know That’s Right (1987 Arhoolie) brought her to the attention of Bruce Iglauer and he signed her to Alligator Records. The Swamp Boogie Queen (1988 Alligator) made her a blues star and even though she was joined on the disc by heavies like Robert Cray, Kim Wilson and Bonnie Raitt who duets on “Somebody’s On Your Case,” Webster’s driving piano and powerful vocals dominate the session. The album was nominated by the blues foundation for Best Contemporary Blues Artist, Best Contemporary Blues Album, and Best Blues Song for “On the Run.” She won for Blues Instrumentalist of the Year, Piano.
In the last decade of her life she maintained a heavy touring schedule and made Two-Fisted Mama! (1990 Alligator) a self-produced effort with the smoking original “Red Negligee” and the nasty title track and No Foolin'! (1991 Alligator) which included Zydeco, soul, 50’s style R&B and her amazing piano skills. In 1992, Webster joined The Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour. She shines on her cuts on The Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour (1992 Alligator) and on the documentary of the tour Pride And Joy: The Story Of Alligator Records (1994 BMG DVD). She was finally getting the recognition she deserved when she suffered a stroke while on tour in Greece in 1993. She lost the use of her left hand and almost all of her eyesight, but stayed on the road playing low-key gigs until her death in 1999. Deluxe Edition (1999 Alligator) is an overview of her best work for the label.
Webster’s early sessions for Excello are collected on Whooee Sweet Daddy - The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions, Vol.9 (1977 Flyright UK), and Katie Webster: Close To My Heart - The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions, Vol.48 (1988 Flyright UK). Her German CDs include Live + Well (1982 Ornament) and 200% Joy (1982 Ornament).