A tale of two Sonny Boys
June 3, 2008 7:39 AM   Subscribe

It's just gotta make you feel so good to hear (and see) Sonny Boy Williamson sing and blow the harp. Keep in mind, of course, this is Sonny Boy Williamson II we're talking about here. Yes, there were two harp-blowing Sonny Boys, and here's a documentary on the legendary Sonny Boy the first: Part 1 and Part 2.

You'll note that on "What's Gonna Happen To You" (the "harp" link) the bass player really drops the ball and flubs the entrance that Sonny Boy had set and cued for him, which is most unfortunate. All the other clips, however, feature Sonny Boy in the able company of blues musicians of his own caliber. And that sometimes includes bassist and "poet laureate" of the blues, Willie Dixon. Sonny Boy also played with the great Muddy Waters.

Here's another performance of Bye Bye Bird.

BTW, that same Sonny Boy (the first) documentary can also be seen in its entirety, uninterrupted, here.
posted by flapjax at midnite (11 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
There's at least one other excellent harp-playing Sonny too.
posted by (parenthetic me) at 8:14 AM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a heartbreaking bit in The Last Waltz where members of The Band talk about jamming with Sonny Boy Williamson II shortly before his death; playing harmonica for hours; stopping regularly to spit blood into a bucket by his feet. (I can't find it anywhere online...so go rent the film.)
posted by Jofus at 8:43 AM on June 3, 2008

Did you catch him playing the harp with his nose at one point (I forget which tune, I wandered on YT a bit)? He also seems to like the "trick" of putting half the harp in his mouth and playing it, no hands, as if he were ingesting it. Anyway, great post, I have always really liked him.
posted by ornate insect at 10:52 AM on June 3, 2008

Levon Helm of The Band goes on at length about playing with Sonny Boy II (Rice Miller) in his autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire, a great read.
posted by wsg at 11:47 AM on June 3, 2008

There's only one Sonny in my book, and he's going cuckoo in this classic 1960's clip. (Thanks for the enlightening post, flapjax. I really had no idea there was a I and a II. And this music is so, so, so good.)
posted by not_on_display at 1:59 PM on June 3, 2008

Am I missing something, or do we not mention Sonny Boy Williamson and the Yardbirds in this post?
posted by Faze at 2:50 PM on June 3, 2008

Yeah Faze, you're missing something.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:16 PM on June 3, 2008

Cain't find it. But I'll trust you.
posted by Faze at 5:54 PM on June 3, 2008

Heh heh! What you missed was my long standing policy of not linking to Eric Clapton, ever. Such is my dislike for the humorless God of British Blues. But I knew someone would. Whenever possible, someone does.

It's just that, the occasional gigs guys like Sonny Boy did with British rock mega-stars tend to be the ones that people already know about. They often tend to be the ONLY ones that they know about, but, tragically, they're often the lowest points, musically speaking, of those blues artist's careers. Start talking about Howlin' Wolf, for example, and there's sure gonna be someone piping right up about the goddam London Sessions, or whatever it was called, where Wolf played with the big British Golden Gods of Rock, but it was some of the lamest blues he was ever a part of. So anyway, when I make these posts I generally tend to accentuate what, for me, is the positive, and leave off the rest. And, like I said, I know other stuff will get linked to in the comments, generally. The good, the bad and the ugly.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:19 PM on June 3, 2008

flap -- I highly approve of the no-Clapton policy. And certainly agree that shame over having taken part in the Atlantic Records "Sessions" albums of the late 60s probably hastened the deaths of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.
posted by Faze at 4:43 AM on June 4, 2008

Cool, Faze!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:34 AM on June 4, 2008

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