Joseph Williams grew up in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood as part of the musical Lastie family that included his uncle Herlin Riley and grandmother Betty Lastie Williams. He attended Lawless High School, where he earned the nickname “Shotgun Joe” for his ability to play the long, barrel-like slide of the trombone. While in high school, Joe joined Dinerral Shavers and Shamarr Allen to form the Little Jazzmen, playing for tips in the French Quarter. In 1997, all three musicians joined the Hot 8 Brass Band.
Throughout his time with the Hot 8, Joe was a creative force within the band. His signature tune, “Rastafunk,” is still a regular part of Hot 8’s live shows.
Listen to Joseph Williams’ song “Rastafunk” from Rock With the Hot 8 (2004).
On August 3, 2004, at the age of 22, Joe was shot and killed by New Orleans Police officers. Though he was unarmed, there were no charges brought against the police. Joe’s prior arrests for drug possession were offered as justification for the shooting, even though the charges had been dropped.
Joe’s death was the inspiration for The Stooges Brass Band “Why Dey Had to Kill Him?” co-written by Joe’s brother Arian Macklin and childhood friends Garfield Bogan and Walter Ramsey. The tune became popular around the city as one of the first explicit brass band protest songs.
Read more about Joseph Williams in my article “Why Dey Had to Kill Him? The Life and Death of Shotgun Joe” in the December 2012 issue of Oxford American.