Boy Warren (August 13, 1919 - July 1, 1977) was an American blues
singer and guitarist, who was a leading figure on the Detroit blues scene in
He was born Robert Henry Warren in Lake Providence, Louisiana in 1919, but
moved with his parents to Memphis, Tennessee at the age of three months. He
was interested in music from an early age, and was working occasionally as a
musician from around 1931, when he dropped out of school, having learned to
play guitar from two of his older brothers. During the 1930s he worked in W.
C. Handy Park, Memphis, with Howling Wolf,
Robert Jr. Lockwood,
Little Buddy Doyle and others, and
he appeared on the Helena, Arkansas based King Biscuit Time radio show with
Sonny Boy Williamson around 1941. In 1942 he moved to Detroit, where he
worked for General Motors while also performing as a musician.
Warren's first recording sessions were in 1949 and 1950 in Detroit, with the
five resulting singles being released on a number of labels. Tracks recorded
at a 1954 session accompanied by
Sonny Boy Williamson were released on Joe Von Battle's JVB label, and on
Excello Records. Further sessions the same year resulted in a single on the
Blue Lake label featuring Boogie Woogie
Red on piano and Calvin Frazier on
guitar, and a reworking of the Robert Johnson song 'Stop Breakin' Down' for
the Drummond Label.
Later career and death
Warren was mostly inactive in music during the 1960s, but revived his career
to play the Detroit Blues Festival in 1971 and the Ann Arbor Blues Festival
in 1973, and to tour Europe with Boogie Woogie Red in 1972. From 1974 to
1976 he was also a featured performer, along with Willie D. Warren, with the
Progressive Blues Band, a popular blues band that played in many of
Detroit's best blues venues.
He suffered a fatal heart attack at his home on July 1, 1977, and was buried
at Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery, Macomb County, Michigan.
Warren was given the nickname 'Baby Boy' by his older brothers as a child.
One of 12 children himself, he married twice, in 1935 and the early 1960s,
and had seven children. On the Staff, Federal and Swing Time labels he was
marketed as Johnny Williams.
His chief influences were Little Buddy
Doyle and Willie '61' Blackwell, especially in his approach to lyrics,
and he stated that another musician he particularly admired was
Memphis Minnie, who he knew in Memphis in
the 1930s. The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings described him as having
brought 'a hip, literate humour to the blues lyric'.