Billy Boy Arnold – Billy Boy Arnold Sings Sonny Boy
Just over 60 years ago, after a movie matinee with my cousin and a friend, I made the trip of several blocks from my home on Chicago’s Southside to 3226 Giles Street, the home of my musical idol the original Sonny Boy, John Lee Williamson.
I’d admired his records and wanted badly to meet him. My knock on the door was answered by an elegantly dressed dark skinned man who asked me “can I help you”? I said “we want to see Sonny Boy”, he answered “well this is Sonny Boy”. “We want to hear you play your harmonica”.
He said “Come on up, I’m proud to have you all”. He invited us in and when I asked “Sonny Boy, show me how you make your harmonica say wah, wah, wah,. He proceeded to pull out his harps and amplifier and spent half an hour teaching me how to choke the harp. That was the most exciting day of my life and it made me determined to become a Bluesman. This album, released on the sixtieth anniversary of his untimely passing in 1948, is my way of celebrating the music of a man who revolutionized the Blues.
Billy Boy Arnold. Chicago, 2008.
1. $1, 000 Dollar Bill - 3:44 2. Love Me Baby - 5:54 3. Mellow Chick Swing - 2:19 4. New Jail House Blues - 4:17 5. Around This Old Juke Tonight - 2:46 6. Half-A-Pint - 4:21 7. Polly Put The Kettle On - 3:13 8. Decoration Day - 5:43 9. Squeeze Me Tight - 3:52 10. Black Gal Blues - 4:42 11. Collector Man Blues - 4:10 12. Rub-A-Dub - 3:34 13. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl - 5:40 14. Cut That Out - 3:32 15. Sugar Mama - 6:19 16. Tell Me Baby - 2:37 17. Springtime Blues - 3:28
Billy Boy Arnold (vocals, harmonica, guitar) , Bob Stroger (bass) , Billy Flynn (guitar, mandolin) , Mel Brown (piano, guitar) , Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (drums)
Recorded November 1 & 2, 2007 at Vyner Road Studio, Toronto.
1. AllMusic - Steve Leggett
Harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold is more than just a master of the vintage late 1940s, early 1950s classic Chicago blues harp style, he's also a natural singer, with a warmth and joy in his vocals that just gets bigger and better as his career goes on. This wonderful (and generous) 17-track set (there's also an unlisted 18th track) finds Arnold paying tribute to his mentor John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, whose electric harp style in the mid 1940s is where the whole modern Chicago blues sound really lifted off of the ground. Arnold had a few harp lessons from Williamson as a child and the two remained close until Williamson's tragic murder in 1948. A more soulfully nuanced and less deliberately explosive singer than Williamson, Arnold does a great job of bringing his own flair to the 14 Williamson tunes here (Arnold also adds three of his own compositions), managing to replicate the feel of the originals while giving them an easy, natural-sounding warmth and verve. Working with a solid band that includes Willie "Big Eyes" Smithon drums, Bob Stroger on bass, Mel Brown on piano and Billy Flynn on mandolin, Arnold delivers urbane and perfectly balanced versions of "1,000 Dollar Bill," "New Jail House Blues," "Polly Put the Kettle On" and the classic "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," finding little vocal corners that Williamson might have missed in the original versions. It's all classic Chicago blues done perfectly, and while there are plenty of harmonica breaks, it's Arnold's quietly brilliant singing that make this album such a pure delight. So much of contemporary blues seems to be about hurrying up to get to the instrumental breaks where everyone can show off what they've got. Arnold, however, understands that it's still really about the song, and he sings his heart out here, no doubt making his mentor proud.
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