There’s been a lot of speculation, conjecture and rumor over the years regarding where Willie Marble came from. Some claim the swamps of Jersey. Others say North Carolina. Many insist that he is a product of Kansas City and that town’s long and rich jazz tradition. Still others, believe that his time spent in and around Birmingham, Alabama explains the Deep South Delta Blues feel to his sound.
Many say he’s some old Blues guy who doesn’t exist at all. That he’s simply a myth perpetuated by those who like to collect old 78s and listen to the snap, crackle and pop of the well worn scratches. Or that he’s some character out of an old DC comic book with two identities and can’t really tell one from the other.
The Deep South. There has to be something to that. You just don’t conjure up this much “Hoo Doo” without that influence. The swamps of Louisiana could have bred him. Or, maybe the mud of the Mississippi had something to do with it. He talked a lot about the barbeque in KC, the oysters in ‘Nawlins and the girls in Mobile. Most agree there is not much of upstate Wyoming in the guy, although it’s long rumored that he once ran into some trouble in Cheyenne.
Regardless, if there is any common theme regarding Willie’s origins and background, it’s that it is full of mystery. No one really knows where he came from and how that distinctive “Swampadelic Sound” evolved.
There is however, one aspect of his evolution that the growing list of “Marbleologists” agree upon. A major influence on his development was the time he spent on the road with now defunct Dekays during the mid 1980’s. Of course the Dekay Brothers themselves are no stranger to controversy, rumor and innuendo. Willie was particularly close to Billy Dekay, the band’s bassist until Billy’s sudden disappearance (under suspicious circumstances) in Mexico in the late 1980’s.
Of course, it only added to the mystery when shortly thereafter, Willie disappeared for several years. It was rumored that he was sighted crossing the Kyber Pass as part of a Red Crescent relief mission. And there were several reported glimpses of him in South America – sipping tequila at a roadside bar in Santiago, Chile, riding with a motorcycle gang in Uruguay and making cameos in various juke joints, dive bars and strip clubs along the Peruvian Coast. There was even talk of him performing a late night set in Marrakech with the great Ethiopian timbale player Odel Obaya. Of course, none of these sightings and rumors have been confirmed.
The only reference he has made to his travels during this period is that during them, he developed a curriculum and method to teach the Blues to young children. And while he is not known for sharing his songwriting and playing techniques with others, he has been known to be very generous in sharing his Blues curriculum with anyone interested in spreading the Blues Gospel to the next generation.
Regardless of where he came from or where he will show up next, the fact is, other than providing hints through the three CD’s he recorded since 2005 with the Willie Marble Xperience, he remains a mystery even to those who travel in the same circles. Apparently he’s gone back underground, which means there’s no telling when and where he might show up. Can’t help but believe that this is related to a rumor that Billy Dekay was recently spotted in a hashish bar in Turkey inquiring regarding Willie’s whereabouts.
In hindsight, it was a shame that he got caught up with those Dekay Brothers. You could say that he went to his own “crossroads” when he met Billy, Bobby and Billy Bob back in the ‘80’s. He knew they were trouble. Real bad characters. Everyone in the industry knew that they were a crew that was best kept at a safe distance. That was no secret. Willie was smart enough to know better, but like picking at a scab, he had to have more.
And that ain’t even the half of it. But it’ll have to do for now.
So who is Willie Marble? Your guess is as good as anybody’s. But one thing is certain. He’s out there somewhere.
Yeah, he’s out there.
Bob Esbenshade contributed to this report
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