Billy Bragg (Stephen William Bragg) was born in December 1957 in Barking, Essex, United Kingdom. His father was an assistant sales manager at a hat-making company, and Bragg grew up gravitating toward the music of the time. He started a punk band when he was 20 years old called Riff Raff. After a few years touring area bars and clubs, he joined the British Army in 1981 for all of about three months. After buying his way out, back home, he began busking on the streets of London and performing solo concerts whenever possible.
He made his first album as a collection of single recordings in 1983, Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, which released on Utility Records. That label’s parent company was eventually purchased by Virgin Records, with Bragg’s debut being sold off to Go! Discs by the end of 1983. For the latter, he began recording new material, and released Brewing Up with Billy Bragg the following year. Here, he began cementing his skill at writing topical and political folk songs. The next few albums and EPs he released were more and more politically charged each time, including a take-off on a popular workers’ anthem about agitator Joe Hill - Bragg’s version “I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night” paying tribute to one of his favorite songwriters.
In the mid-1990s, he met and befriended Nora Guthrie (Woody’s daughter), who asked him to record some of her father’s “lost” songs. For the project, he teamed up with alt-country megaband Wilco for a series of recordings popularized as Mermaid Avenue (1998 and 2000, respectively).
Throughout his career, Billy Bragg has recorded a total of twelve studio albums, including the two Mermaid Avenue discs with Wilco and a band album with the Blokes. He’s also released five live albums and three EPs, has toured the world and earned considerable praise from critics, bloggers, and fans alike.