Hailing from Charlottesville, VA, William Purvis began his love of blues and classic soul when he discovered the music of Muddy Waters and Otis Redding. From there he discovered other players and singers who would influence his style through the years: Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin Wolf, the three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddy, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Sam Cooke, Levi Stubb, Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, Sam and Dave.
William started his musical career playing while attending Radford University in Radford, VA. He auditioned for a blues band called the Soul Fixers and landed the job of lead singer/harp player. “As a beginner it took me awhile to develop as a performer. My abilities were limited then, but being in the band helped me sharpen my skills for later.” Part of the learning process included the opportunity to see live musicians as they toured through the Charlottesville and New River Valley area. As William recalls, “I was able to see acts such as John Lee Hooker, Johnny Winter, James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, and Carey Bell as they came through. I was able to watch and observe how musicians communicate with an audience and with one another on the bandstand. Bob Margolin was someone I followed closely, not only because he played in the Muddy Waters band, but because he was easily accessible. He lived in Blacksburg which was a few miles from Radford. I definitely learned by watching him, especially when he pulled out the slide. At the time I was playing harp, but after seeing Bob work the slide, I wanted to do that too.”
Heading to Chicago after graduation, William hung out in the blues bars of the South and West sides of the city absorbing the raw power and soul of the mostly unsung acts who often turned out brilliant performances in the cramped spaces and smoky neon haze of those establishments. He also got a chance to meet and hang out with local luminaries: Buddy Scott and Dave and Louis Myers of the Aces. “Buddy Scott was very helpful to me in the beginning.” William recalls, “He worked at a place called Lee’s Unleaded Blues on the weekends. He was more than a musician, he was a great entertainer. He and his wife Patricia really knew how to work the crowd.” He would invite me to join his group on the bandstand and from there I had to give it my all…… Chicago’s Southside was a long way from Radford. This was a tougher environment and standards were set very high for people with wanted to perform. It was exactly what I needed to get better. Buddy was also a great teacher and often told me to hang in there.”
Another turning point was meeting Grady Freeman whom at the time had his group the Family Band. “At the time he had a Sunday night show at a place called the Meet Me Here Lounge. He would also invite me to the bandstand for a number or two and offered a great deal of encouragement.
In 1992, William formed a band called the Seventh Sons with guitarist John Elverum, bassist Mike Flynn and drummer Rob Aguliara. The band hit the local scene playing “basically for anyone willing to give us a gig. Some gigs were great, some not so successful, but at the time it didn’t matter. The goal for us was to keep working and keep getting tighter as a band. At time we were doing covers of the blues and R + B numbers we liked. However, I did want to focus on songwriting.” Eventually, the time for that would come.
Grady Freeman would eventually join the Seventh Sons in 1994 and this would open up the opportunity to focus on original music. The band served up a good, foot tapping traditional blues menu at first, but later added soul songs playing Chicago area music clubs such as the Checkerboard Lounge, Cafe Lura, Red’s Lounge and the Harlem Avenue Lounge. They released a critically-acclaimed barnburner of a CD “Kick Off Your Shoes” which focused on original songs by Freeman as well as a mix of eclectic covers.
In 2001, after the departure of Freeman, William Purvis returned to the microphone as lead singer and continued to work the Chicago music scene and Jon Williams eventually joined the band as a bassist. With his help, the band released another CD “Got To Get Up”. He notes, “This one allowed me to focus not only on writing songs within the framework of the blues, it allowed me to inject the Memphis soul influence as well.” The CD was released to rave reviews:
"We begin this issue's quest for the best with William Purvis and the Seventh Sons, who blend gritty Memphis R+B and tough Chicago blues with considerable ingenuity. The fiery results can be heard on 'Got To Get Up'(self -release), one of the sharpest releases we've heard lately, as notable for it's audacious approach as it's inarguable traditionalism. Lovely horn charts kick even straight shuffles like 'Tried My Luck At Love' into the stratosphere. Purvis, solid on harp and an excellent slide guitarist, takes a no nonsense approach to these mostly original tunes; his delivery is particularly soulful on the ballad 'You Don't Have To Let Me Down Easy'. While the Seventh Sons sound reminiscent of Johnny Littlejohn's sessions for Arhoolie, Purvis dedicates the disc to the memory of another underground Chicago great, Buddy Scott.
Tom Hylsop Blues Bites
Blues Review Magazine August/September2002
In 2002, William assembled a new Seventh Sons which included guitarist Matt James, bassist Tony Wisniewski, and drummer Tim Rutkowski. This led to the release of “What’s Troubling Me”. Purvis continued to stay focused on original tunes as well as showcasing songs from local songwriters such as Mick Scott , Garrett Lane, Sybil Dorito, and Gen’ral Jim Patton. Once again, the reviews were in:
William Purvis' new disc is the other top pick this time. The Chicago guitar gunner knows how to dress up the down home blues. "What's Troubling Me" (self-release) is sparked by sweetly eccentric songwriting and creative soloing, crowned by Purvis' warm, welcome croon. Brian O Hern's bubbling piano jumps out of the mix as if rendered in 3-D.
In 2005, the band soon went their separate ways and Purvis decided it was time to take a break from the music scene and . In 2013, William was once again bitten by the bug and hit the studio once again with Wisniewski. This resulted in the release of the country/Americana inspired blues CD “When Tequila Does the Talking” with guitarist Mark Wydra and drummer Mark Fornek. “While living in Chicago,” William observed, “I noticed that the city had an incredible country/Americana scene. I had the opportunity to check out many of the singer songwriters on the circuit such as Tim Tobin, the Hoyle Brothers, and Robbie Fulks. Artists such as Earnest Tubb, Merle Haggard, Webb Pierce, and Graham Parsons started taking up a great deal of my listening time. This inspired Tony and I to try something a little different and ‘Tequila’ is the result. Since then country continues to be as much of an influence in shaping our sound as the blues and classic soul.”
Today, William Purvis continues to write and perform around the Chicago area as well as the Midwest. Continuing to expand on the traditions set down at Chess/Checker in the 1950's, Stax/Volt in the 1960's, with a taste of Bakersfield, CA, his music and live shows always feature the superb musicianship of the players, as well as the unique use of the slide in the soul music arrangements. In the end, music should always speak for itself--and this music does, loud and clear.