Rev. John Wilkins

The Rev. John Wilkins is the son of famed bluesman Robert Wilkins, who was himself a bluesman turned preacher and whose song Prodigal Son was covered by the Rolling Stones. The elder Rev. Wilkins subsequently performed at the Newport Folk Festival to considerable acclaim and the new Reverend carries on the family blues/gospel/preacher/musician tradition. From early childhood on Rev. John Wilkins was stooped in the musical traditions that surrounded him, heavy blues & gospel influence, soul, R&B and the whole amalgam of the African-American musical experience. While he grew up in Memphis, the family was exposed to the country blues of nearby North Mississippi, just a short drive over the state line, where his daddy played house parties and neighborhood picnics. It all stuck, but there is a twist because of the stigma associated with the well known sinning ways of he blues, known as “the devil’s music” in some circles: Rev. John Wilkins is a blues player if ever you heard one but he does not refer to himself as such.  He does not just carry the Reverend title for show, as some bluesmen tended to do, but he is actually a preacher for the Hunter’s Chapel in Como, Mississippi where Hill Country bluesman Fred McDowell and his wife Annie Mae were once members, as well as the late Otha Turner.  “As such, Rev. John Wilkins is a “gospel guitarist” playing in the fingerpicking, rural blues style. That’s the perpetual struggle of the sacred and profane!

Call it what you want. Memphis based Rev. John Wilkins is fundamentally a bluesman in the North Mississippi Hill Country tradition who sings sacred lyrics and a spiritual country blues– but if you are one of the many blues fans internationally who does not speak English, it will sound like plain old blues. It’s all good.

Signed to Fat Possum Records, he enjoys national recognition and is regularly on tour and often seen at festivals. While he often performs in an electric band, the deep roots Memphis/North Mississippi country blues sound is unshakeable.

Rev. John Wilkins has performed with Phil Wiggins and many others and has yet another persona. According to Phil Wiggins, the good Reverend “dons his black leather jacket and takes up his duties as chaplin of the King Riders Motorcycle Club. In Como, he’s known as the “Biker Preacher.”

A brilliant performer with a rich, expressive voice and a superb guitarist, the Rev. Wilkins was recently recorded as part of the 78 Project, a team of musicologists who is recording on old fashioned 78 rpm record technology. Their video far exceeds any current YouTube film available, and they do justice to showcasing this great American folk singer.

The YouTube video below is of poor quality but is a nice example of the acoustic country blues feel of the Reverend.

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