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Lonesome songs always appealed to me - Dock Boggs

Author Topic: sonny boy williamson (john lee)  (Read 2595 times)

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Offline unezrider

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sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« on: December 02, 2009, 03:41:08 PM »
hello friend,
i almost put this in the 50's blues thread, as my thoughts somewhat are more toward that than country blues on this. please feel free to move it, if more appropriate.
i have been listening a lot to sonny boy's recordings lately, & i am just struck by how consistently good the tracks are. & the other thing i am struck by is the number of his songs i know from other people's recordings of them. muddy waters, howlin' wolf, rice miller, jimmy rogers, junior wells, b.b. king, etc? williamson must have been huge!
musically you can see a direct line from his era to the 50's chicago blues scene. & i'm sure he played a big part in popularizing the harmonica as a fixture to the music. but with so many artists covering his songs, why isn't his name brought up more when influences on those guys are being discussed? it seems to me his influence on blues guys from the 50's was about as strong as robert johnson's was on rock guys from the 60's. yet i know he was the 2nd sonny boy williamson i came across when i was getting into this music. mentioning his influence seems so logical, & yet i don't see much of it.
chris
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline blueshome

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2009, 12:46:25 AM »
I think at least part of the problem is with the harmonica players and fans who think things started with Little Walter.
95% of the harp players I know can't wait to get plugged into an amp and so haven't either explored acoustic playing, or more commonly, have kidded themselves that they sound good because the electricity substitutes for solid technique. The problem with Sonny Boy is that he was 10years too early for them.

On the other hand, he didn't play guitar, so that cuts out the guitar based country blues fans.

I agree he wrote some great songs. He also showed a massive influence from Sleepy John Estes in this and from Hammie Nixon in his harp playing.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2009, 09:39:20 AM by blueshome »

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2009, 01:18:09 AM »
And the people Phil mentions have most likely also never heard the great Noah Lewis.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline doctorpep

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2009, 10:30:43 PM »
I agree with you guys that many people ignore Sonny Boy I due to the fact of his unamplified approach. At the same time, people deify Walter while ignoring a guy like Sugar Blue, who is just as much of a harmonica genius as Walter, in my humble opinion. However, since we're talking about Country Blues, I'll return to Sonny Boy I. It seems like his "Decoration Day" has been done by everyone and their grandmother. Didn't Billy Boy Arnold recently release a Sonny Boy I tribute album?
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Offline unezrider

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2009, 06:12:54 PM »
hello friend,
the acoustic aspect of his music makes a bit of sense. but there was at least amplified guitars in his recordings toward the end. & maybe had he lived a few years longer this wouldn't even be a topic for discussion. but it's as if when talking of people's influences of that era (think chess record artists) they start with patton & house, & end with robert johnson. (i'm exaggerating, but you get my point.) & not even looking at sonny boy as just a harp blower, but his music as a whole. really, he was just a couple of amps & a small drum kit away from having that chicago blues sound of the early 50's, a whole decade earlier. & sonny boy had some pretty good guitar players along the way, too. well documented guys like big bill & big joe williams. it's a shame, because the music deserves better recognition. particularly because this wasn't some unknown in his day that record collectors took a big liking to, a few decades later, but a very influential artist of his time.
i couldn't agree more with the sleepy john remark. i remember when i first heard sonny boy, i immediately thought how close it was in feel to some sleepy john estes stuff. he's another one not mentioned nearly enough.
chris
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline daveharrisonemanband

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2009, 04:47:41 PM »
Another name to throw into the mix here is Robert Nighthawk, who started out as a great Williamson influenced harp blower and played on Williamson's earliest sessions (as Robert Lee McCoy). In my work on my one man band book I'm struck by the Williamson influence on several key one man bands; Joe Hill Louis, Dr Ross (especially), Drifting Slim, to name three of the bigger names. If he had lived a few more years, I think he would have been as big as Walter or Sonny Boy 2, both heavily influenced by him. Good to see him getting discussed!

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2009, 03:29:35 AM »
Another name to throw into the mix here is Robert Nighthawk, who started out as a great Williamson influenced harp blower and played on Williamson's earliest sessions (as Robert Lee McCoy).
Go to the TAGS, scroll down to R and you'll find Robert Lee McCoy, when clicked it will display several RLMcC discussions. He's quite a favourite hereabouts. :)
« Last Edit: December 08, 2009, 04:28:08 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline doctorpep

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2009, 10:15:49 PM »
The following artists have covered Sonny Boy I's "Decoration Day":

Billy Boy Arnold, Honeyboy Edwards, John Lee Hooker, Dan Pickett, Yank Rachell, Sunnyland Slim, Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Granderson.

That alone should solidify the man's position in Blues. I believe that if he had had the opportunity to record with an electric band, we'd be recognizing him as an electric "Chicago" Blues artist.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

http://www.hardluckchild.blogspot.com/

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2009, 11:39:31 PM »
The following artists have covered Sonny Boy I's "Decoration Day"
I hate to say this but SBW1 may not have written the song as it was recorded six months earlier by the much maligned Curtis Jones. Admittedly it remained unreleased until 1980 but that's not to say he wasn't performing it. However, your point is well taken.

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2009, 01:15:55 AM »
I have some faint recollection of Dr. Ross doing "Decoration Day" as well. Am I right or is my mind deluding me??
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline blueshome

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #10 on: December 14, 2009, 01:46:02 AM »
Dr.Ross performed many Sonny Boy tunes, very much with the sound of the original. I remember him at Burnley (1991) where he said SBW was his biggest influence and reeled off about 3 or 4 songs by the master during a backstage session.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #11 on: December 14, 2009, 01:53:33 AM »
I have some faint recollection of Dr. Ross doing "Decoration Day" as well. Am I right or is my mind deluding me??
Nope it does well by you, the Blue Horizon/Xtra LP recorded in Ross's Bedford Hotel room in London 1965 by Bob Yates with assistance from Tony Russell.

Offline unezrider

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2009, 10:03:09 AM »
hello friend,
i think pep's list of the people who recorded 'decoration day' serves as a perfect example of the influence sonny boy had. you probably could come up with a similar list for 'good morning little school girl'. here's a few sonny boy covers that come to my mind, too.
? muddy waters - good morning little school girl, elevate me mama (elevator woman), early in the morning. (a charlie spand song, but sonny boy's just as likely a source for muddy)
? howlin' wolf - bluebird blues, decoration day, my country sugar mama (sugar mama blues)
? junior wells - hoodoo man (hoodoo hoodoo), better cut that out
? jimmy rogers - my little machine, sloppy drunk (again, a carr & blackwell song, but sonny boy recorded it so much, a possible source for jimmy.)
? sonny boy (rice miller) - peach tree ( apple tree swing) & his checking up on my baby seems inspired by sonny boy's check up on my baby blues
? b.b. king - when my heart beats like a hammer (million years blues)
not a complete list by any stretch, but i think only adds to the point.
earlier dave pointed out joe hill lewis' debt to sonny boy. on the ace records 'the complete meteor blues, r&b & gospel recordings' (excellent collection, by the way) lewis was recorded under the name 'chicago sunny boy'. also there is a great cover of sonny boy's 'you got to step back' by sunny blair, called 'please send back your love'.
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline unezrider

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2010, 03:06:18 PM »
hello friend,
a few months back i got my hands on a very nicely priced copy of "the aristocrat of the blues - the best of aristocrat records". it is no longer in print, but worth searching out. some very high quality music from the label that would become chess records.
in the booklet there was a picture i had never seen before of sonny boy. i thought i would post it, since it's a nice shot of him with some other yet to be blues notables. it's from 1947. he's seated with his wife lacey belle, a few unknowns, eddie boyd standing behind him, & a very young looking muddy waters.
"Be good, & you will be lonesome." -Mark Twain

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: sonny boy williamson (john lee)
« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2010, 11:40:08 PM »
It was discovered in the Chess files and first published in an issue of Blues Unlimited in the late 60s, taken at The High Life Inn Chicago the person on the right has been identified as Otis Spann but this is is still under debate.

 


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