On this day in 1914 Sonny Boy Williamson was born.
Sonny Boy was a hugely influential blues harmonica player. Arguably all the present blues harmonica players have been influenced to a greater or lesser extent. None more so than Sonny Boy Williamson.
In fact Sonny Boy Williamson was so influential that Sonny Boy Williamson copied Sonny Boy Williamson.
Confused? Don’t worry many avid blues fans have been, and still are, confused by just who is playing when they listen to Sonny Boy Williamson.
Let me explain. The Sonny Boy Williamson born today in 1914 was the original and his birth name was John Lee Curtis Williamson in Jackson Tennessee. He died on 1st June 1948 after being mugged in Chicago. In between he forged a harmonica style that has changed the world of music. He also wrote performed some of the seminal blues songs of the 20th century. His biggest selling song was a massive race record hit (remember, before the 60s in the States the blues and rhythm and blues were thought not to be fit for white people) was “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl has been recorded by John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters, Doctor Ross, The Grateful Dead, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, Yardbirds, Rolling Stones among many, many more.
Back to the point of this blog…….
So, Sonny Boy was hugely popular and living and recording in Chicago. Over in Arkansas There was harmonica player called Rice Miller (although he may have been born as Aleck Ford, or Rice Ford, or Aleck Miller, no one is really sure and as to his date of birth just don’t get me started….) Rice Miller appeared on the radio and played in a similar style to Sonny Boy. The radio shows sponsors was King Biscuits.
Arkansas is quite a way away from Chicago and though Sonny Boy’s recoreds were popular there was little chance that he would come to Arkansas to play. To King Biscuit it seemed obvious, call Rice Miller Sonny Boy Williamson and pretend (or least not deny) that it was the real Sonny Boy on their radio show! Strangely, it worked. Sonny Boy never sued over the hijacking of his name (but then Rice Miller did not record as Sonny Boy while Sonny Boy was alive – if you see what I mean). They both just got on with it. After Sonny Boy died Rice Miller recorded as Sonny Boy Williamson II. The trouble is that there are still compilations out there that get the 2 mixed up.
Look on the bright side, they were both great harmonica players, just enjoy the music!
People are still getting them mixed up. This is Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II) with the song thatgave a great band its name.
With Muddy Waters “Got My Mojo Working”