Ben Wiley Payton of Jackson, Mississippi is an acoustic blues artist with roots in the Delta, but he's only a relatively recent convert to the vintage style. Born in tiny Coila in the hill country just east of the Delta, Ben lived in Greenwood—the resting place of Robert Johnson—before moving as a teen with his family in the early 1960s to Chicago.
There Payton fell in the city's vibrant blues and soul scene, performing with artists including Bobby Rush. In the late '60s jazz pianist Randy Weston recruited Payton for an extended stay at a club in Morocco, which widened his musical outlook.
In the late '70s Payton laid down his guitar and concentrated on raising his family, but picked up the acoustic guitar again in the '90s. Payton soon returned to his home state of Mississippi, and began studying and then performing the music of early masters including Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and Mississippi John Hurt.
He also applies his rich voice and considerable guitar skills to his own compositions—his debut CD, Diggin' Up Old Country Blues, features all originals that build upon early Mississippi blues traditions. The CD received heavy play on XM/Sirius' station "Bluesville."
Payton has a great passion for blues history and teaching others about acoustic country blues and its connections to broader themes in African American history. In addition to working with various programs in Mississippi, he's served as a guest instructor at renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston and at the Centrum music camp in Port Townsend, Washington.
This year, Payton was honored by being chosen to represent the state of Mississippi for the American Folklife Center's Homegrown Concert Series at the Library of Congress, which included an additional concert at the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington DC.
Other noteworthy performances for 2011 are the upcoming Chicago Blues Festival, and the King Biscuit Festival. When not on the road, Payton plays locally in his current home of Jackson and at venues across the state.
Payton is currently working on his second album of acoustic blues using his guitar of choice—a Taylor GS that he named Willie Mae, inspired by a song by Big Bill Broonzy. In Willie Mae, he says, he's found a sound that he's been seeking for many years.