Glossary entry for
Williamson, Sonny Boy

The original Sonny Boy Williamson (I) is John Lee Williamson, nicknamed Sonny Boy because he was so young (about 16) when he hit the road seeking fame and fortune with his harmonica. He began recording in 1937 atage 23, when he recorded "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." He was profoundly influential in the development of the blues harp and, according to Billy Boy Arnold, was to black people a folk hero of the same magnitude as boxing champ Joe Louis during his lifetime. Indeed, it was common during the 40s for an amateur harp player to blow a few riffs and announce, "I'm Sonny Boy Williamson!" Sonny Boy I was brutally murdered (multiple ice pick wounds) in 1948.

Aleck "Rice" Miller, although probably 15 years older than John Lee Williamson, did not begin making a big name for himself until after the beginning Sonny Boy I's career. When King Biscuit Flour set out to sponsor a daily blues radio show in around 1941 with a harmonica-playing star, owner Max Moore decided employ a little name recognition to attract an audience and dubbed Rice Miller "Sonny Boy Williamson." Ironically, Sonny Boy II, as Miller is commonly called, is one of the few harp players to come after Sonny Boy I whose style shows no overt signs of no. I's influence. After leaving his radio show around 1944 and wandering around the South playing juke joints, Sonny Boy II began recording for the Bluebird label in 1951 and then switched to the Chess label in 1955. For Chess he recorded his self-penned "Keep Your Hands Out of My Pocket" (with a hilarious outtake spoken to producer Leonard Chess before the song: "You better get it while it's hot goddammit, cause if you let it cool it won't be worth a damn!") and "Help Me," co-written with one R. Bass.

Contributed by Hugh L. Marshall

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