Billy Boy Arnold – Consolidated Mojo
Growing up in Chicago, William Arnold learned the harmonica in his early years listening to Sonny Boy Williamson I’s recordings. After learning that Sonny Boy (John Lee Williamson) lived right in his neighborhood, the 12 year old got his nerve up enough to approach the older musician for lessons. When he went back for his second lesson a couple weeks later, John Lee’s wife Lacy Bell, told him Sonny Boy was dead, killed after a late night out. By the 1950’s William was still playing the harp and calling himself “Billy Boy” after his late mentor.
Around this time he hooked up with a young Ellis McDaniel and Jody Williams on guitars and started playing on the streets of Chicago. All three ended up at Chess Records recording for Leonard Chess. After recording a popular song they performed together on the streets, Chess asked for the title, to which they answered, ”we don’t have one”. Billy then remembered a fellow musician who hung around their circle with a funny name, Bo Diddley. “Hey, how bout Bo Diddley?” ,Billy asked. Leonard liked it and hence “Bo Diddley” ended up both the title of the song and the performer (McDaniel became “Bo”) on their first record.
Unfortunately Billy Boy & Chess never hit it off real well & Arnold ended up with Chess’ competitor, Vee Jay Records, where he cut his classic sides with his great band, Jody Williams & Syl Johnson on guitars, Otis Spann or Johnny Jones on piano, and Earl Phillips on drums. These songs have inspired everyone from the Yardbirds, David Bowie, Pretty Things, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard to blues bands on every corner of the globe.
I was first introduced to Billy Boy Arnold’s music in 1978. Kim Wilson was visiting his girlfriend at the time in SF, CA. and made me a cassette of Billy Boy’s VeeJay recordings. It didn’t get me at first but the more I listened, the cooler it sounded to me, great band, great songs, good singing & harp playing. I could hear where Kim picked up on some of Billy’s playing and repertoire as well. Before long I was working songs like “Rockinitus” and “Ain’t Got You” into our repertoire. I even named my first label “Rockinitus” Records, on which I recorded three records , in the eighties. By 1992, I figured I’d try to book some dates in Ca. for Billy, called him, got a price & booked 10 dates with him & Jimmy Rogers in the northern California region, including the SF Blues Festival, with my band, the Blues Survivors. At the time, my band had two up and comers, Rusty Zinn on guitar and Ronnie James Weber on bass, as well as Tom Mahon guesting on piano and Mark Bohn on drums.
I figured while Billy was out in Ca. we’d get him & the band in the studio and see what we could accomplish. We’d done most of the dates and knew his material pretty well by this time, so the timing seemed right. On Oct. 1,1992 we recorded an eight hour session at Dave Wellhausen Studios in SF with Gary Mankin engineering and myself producing. We got fourteen songs recorded that day. Rusty knew the Jody William’s guitar parts off Billy’s records backwards and forwards, Ronnie played electric bass on the session (he always played upright bass on my gigs), since that was what Billy was looking for. Tom Mahon could play every blues piano masters’ style known to man and proved on this record he could cover everything from Blind John Davis to Otis Spann and Henry Gray. Mark Bohn was always a master of drum tonality in the studio and this proved no exception.
As I recall, we started with Billy tearing into Little Walter’s version of “Me and Piney Brown”, then covered a lot of his VeeJay catalog, threw in a couple John Lee Williamson’s numbers, ”I Hear My Name Ringing” with the band and ”Sonny Boy’s Jump” with just Billy and Tom, plus a great version of “The Dozens”(Dirty Mutha For Ya) and ended the session with a killer version of “I’m A Man”, with verses I’d never heard before or since, thrown in. Billy played thru my 58 Fender Bassman amp and got a raucous tone throughout. I felt the band played Arnold’s songs with the loose room - feel and tough tones of the original recording, with Billy’s voice just slightly tattered enough from the tour to give it a real blues quality and punch. He’s singing with real conviction here.
So when Andrew Galloway from Electro-Fi called me and said he was thinking of doing a Billy Boy recording, I said ”I’ve got just what you’re looking for”. This almost became Billy Boy’s 1993 comeback release but that’s a whole nother Blues story. It took awhile but it’s worth the wait!
Mark Hummel, Oakland, Ca. 6-23-05
1. I'm a Man - 3:39 2. Me and Piney Brown - 3:29 3. Here's My Picture - 2:35 4. Sonny Boy's Jump - 2:33 5. I Ain't Got You - 3:00 6. If You Would Just Let Me Love You - 3:17 7. I Hear My Name Ringing - 3:15 8. I Wish You Would - 3:51 9. She Fooled Me - 3:58 10. You Got Me Wrong - 5:32 11. My Heart Is Crying - 4:09 12. Prisoner's Plea - 3:33 13. Low Down Blues - 5:31 14. Dirty Muther Fuyer - 4:20
William 'Billy Boy' Arnold (harmonica, vocals) , Rusty Zinn (guitar) , Tom Mahon (piano) , Ronnie James Webber (bass) , Mark Bohn (drums)
1. AllMusic - Hal Horowitz
Recorded in San Francisco in 1992 with producer/harpist Mark Hummel's band of the time, but not released until 2005 for reasons that are not explained in the liner notes, this is better than average traditional Chicago blues from one of the genre's creators. All 14 tracks were cut in a single eight-hour session with no time for overdubs at the end of one of Arnold's tours, which adds a more edgy but still professional tone to the album. Hummel's tight band included a young Rusty Zinn on guitar and noted blues pianist Tom Mahon, both of whom take their share of solos and push Arnold to some of his better late-period performances. The program runs through standard Chicago shuffles and tempos, with tough remakes of Billy Boy's own big hits such as "I Ain't Got You," "You Got Me Wrong," and the dependable "I Wish You Would" as icing on the cake. Hummel keeps the sound stripped down and his band doesn't hot dog the proceedings, while providing a solid and energized backup for Arnold's expressive vocals and sturdy harp. While the world probably doesn't need another version of his old friend Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," this one adds extra verses most blues fans haven't heard. Arnold pays tribute to Little Walter by including a cover of Walter's arrangement of "Me and Piney Brown." He also brings a few tracks from his mentor, Sonny Boy Williamson I, with "Sonny Boy's Jump" and "I Hear My Name Ringing." Consider this a warm-up for the harp master's unexpectedly successful 1993 Alligator comeback, but it's a powerful session on its own that proves Arnold hadn't lost a step since his '60s heyday.
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