Before he was known as Memphis blues guitarist Kansas Joe, he was born Wilbur McCoy on May 11, 1905, in Raymond, Mississippi. Like many of his contemporaries, he came from a musical family. He would move on to Memphis to be a part of the bustling blues scene of the early 1920s.
During this period, he would meet future collaborator and wife, Lizzie Douglas who would become Memphis Minnie when they signed with Columbia. McCoy would take on the name Kansas Joe and the duo would write a number of hits in the 1930s including “Bumble Bee” which they released on Vocalion. They would get a ton of mileage out of the song even past their 1935 divorce.
Kansas Joe wasted no time getting back to work and formed a band with his brother Papa Charlie McCoy: The Harlem Hamfats. The band joined Decca Records and would record several songs that would become hits as cover tunes. The band ended with Charlie’s enlisting in the military for World War II.
His last band was Big Joe and his Rhythm. It mainly performed live shows up until the end of the 1950s. Kansas Joe would pass January 28, 1950 as a result of heart complications.