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Arkansas loses harmonica star Willie Cobbs, 89

Performed with B.B. King, Little Walter, other greats by Danny Shameer | October 27, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Willie Cobbs, a blues harmonica player whose song "You Don't Love Me" appeared on the Allman Brothers Band album "Live at the Fillmore East" died Monday.

His death was announced on the musician's Facebook page and by Living Blues magazine.

Cobbs, 89, was born and raised in the Smale community of Monroe County in east Arkansas.

In a 2001 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he said he first developed a taste for the music life when he saw blues musicians affiliated with the King Biscuit radio show plug in and play in his neighborhood.

"My uncle had a store, and those guys were pushing Sonny Boy meal and flour, and they'd play on the back of a truck after they'd run a cord into our store," Cobbs said. "That's when I got my first dose of music, and I left for Chicago at 16. I got up there and played with Sonny Boy and Little Walter and Eddie Boyd and others."

He gained a measure of fame with an acting role as Skillet in "Mississippi Masala," a 1991 movie that starred Denzel Washington, and eventually he returned to Arkansas, continuing to play music and record songs.

"I came back when my mom got sick, and after she passed, I got the farm and started remodeling. I just wanted to quit running down the road a little bit. I've said that Smale started out having 39 people, and now there's [fellow blues musician] John Weston and me and about eight other people."

A marker on the Arkansas Delta Music Trail honors Cobbs in Monroe County, citing his work playing at the White Swan club in Brinkley, where he performed with B.B. King and Little Walter, and operating clubs such as the Blue Flame club in Stuttgart, according to the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

In 2013, he won the Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence. The award is named after Payne, longtime host of the weekday King Biscuit Time broadcast from Helena-West Helena radio station KFFA-AM. It recognizes individuals who have strongly influenced the blues music of the Arkansas Delta.

Print Headline: Arkansas loses harmonica star Willie Cobbs, 89

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