Gimme 5: Big Joe Shelton

Big Joe Shelton is a Blues icon, not only in north Mississippi and throughout the United States, but around the world. His creative and often humorous lyrics, as well as his talent on the harmonica, have led to a worldwide fan base that grows bigger every day. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him, recently, to talk about his career, from its start, up until today.

  1. What are the inspirations that helped propel him on his career as a Blues songwriter/performer?

 Shelton listed the people, places, and culture of the Black Prairie region of north Mississippi, as well as its music, food, and idioms, as factors that have inspired him. He cited the title of one of his albums, “The Older I Get, The Better I Was, as just one example of sayings he’s heard over the years that morphed into a song.

  1. What people, places, and experiences have influenced his work?

Big Joe, or as his friends know him, “Joe,” cited Elvis as one of his earliest influences. He recalls  the time when his older sister, who was just 15 at the time, took him, a five-year-old, to see the first Elvis movie, “Love Me Tender,” at the Princess Theatre in Columbus, MS.

Shelton recounted how he spent time at his parents’ ice cream shop, The Cream Bowl, which was located on what is now part of the campus of Mississippi University for Women, in Columbus. The restaurant had a jukebox that was filled with current music on “45’s” and when the jukebox company employee came to empty the money from the machine and swap out some of the records for newer releases, he would give the discs being replaced to Joe. This led to Shelton’s amassing a sizable collection of  music that he enjoyed for many years to come.

He also remembered his first concert, when he was around nine years old, and he saw Roy Orbison perform at Whitfield Auditorium (now Rent Auditorium) on the MUW campus.

Shelton also spent a lot of time with Bluesman “Big Joe” Williams, who let Joe hang out with him in return for Joe serving as his chauffeur and “roadie.”

He fondly recalled how Rock legend and Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist was instrumental in recording Big Joe’s first album, “Black Prairie Blues,” which was a finalist for Best Self-Produced CD in the 2009 International Blues Challenge competition.

Shelton listed Jon Whittington, an art professor at East Mississippi Community College, as a mentor, stating that he “gave me the encouragement to pursue my creativity.”

Rounding out the list of influences were Ed Reed and such colorful characters as “Kool Aid’ and “Pool Hall Red.’

  1. How long has he been performing professionally?

Shelton said that to the best of his recollection, his first paid performance was at a local juke joint, when, as a teenager, his compensation consisted of “$5 and a six-pack of Budweiser.”

  1. How long does it take him to write a song?

In reply to this query, Joe replied “30 minutes to forever.” He elaborated that, as with many artists – songwriters or visual artists – creativity is not something that can be forced, it must flow naturally from the mind of the individual.

  1. Shelton is also a talented glass artist. Is there any crossover between his music and his glassmaking?

Shelton, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Mississippi State University and a Master’s of Printmaking from Northern Illinois University, replied that the primary crossover is in the “creative process” that is necessary for each discipline.

Bonus: Tell us something about you that nobody knows.

Shelton stated that, after the release of his album, “The Older I Get, the Better I Was,” the title track was a finalist for Song of the year at the 33rd Blues Foundation Awards in 2012.


Shelton is working on a new album, which he projects will be released in about a year.

To listen to some of Joe’s music, visit

‘Like” him on his Facebook music page at