Monday, November 06, 2006

Sonny Boy Williamson II

Sonny Boy Williamson II AKA Rice Miller, Willie Williamson, Willie Miller, "Little Boy Blue", "The Goat" and "Footsie," was born (acording to Sonny), on December 1889. Some say it was around 1912, but Miller's gravestone has his birthdate as March 11, 1908. He was born on the Sara Jones Plantation near Glendora, Mississippi in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi.

Miller lived and worked as a sharecropper until the early 1930s. By then he traveled around Mississippi and Arkansas and encountered Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Joe Williams, Elmore James and Robert Lockwood Jr.. He was also associated with Robert Johnson during this period.Williamson lived in Twist, Arkansas for a time with Howlin' Wolf's sister Mary Burnett and taught Wolf to play harmonica. In 1941 Miller was hired to play the King Biscuit Time show on radio station KFFA in Helena, Arkansas with Lockwood.

It was at this point that the radio program's sponsor, Max Moore, began billing Miller as Sonny Boy Williamson, apparently in an attempt to capitalize on the fame of the well known Chicago-based harmonica player and singer John Lee Williamson. Williamson's first recording session took place in 1951. Soon after, his contract was sold to Chess records where he recorded 70 songs.

In the 1960s he toured Europe during the height of the British blues craze, recording with The Yardbirds and The Animals. It was during Williamson's tour of the UK in the '60s that he adopted the bowler hat and carried his harmonicas on stage in a briefcase, which became his trade mark in the last year of his life.

Williamson was characterized by a hip-flask of whiskey, a pistol, a knife, a foul mouth, and a short temper. He had always worn fancier suits than he could afford, and his tour of Europe allowed him further embellishment, adding a finely tailored two-tone suit and a bowler hat to his unique, grey-goateed image. Rice Miller was, however, notable as a highly original blues songwriter, and his laconic harmonica style and sly vocals mark him as a true artist. He died in 1965. MP3: Don't Start Me Talking


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