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Sonny Boy Williamson II…

11 May , 2011,
Miles
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Sonny Boy Williamson II

Being a Blues Guy, I was happy when I heard Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic recording, Keep it to Ourselves on compact disc.

The sales director at the radio station I was working, came into the studio one day during my air-shift, and handed me a copy of Keep it to Ourselves, a re-issue of a 1962 recording, on Alligator records.

This recording was produced in England with Sonny Boy Williamson and Matt “Guitar” Murphy alone in a studio. It is beautiful.

Even with digitally recorded and re-mastered quality, you know how some CDs sound like you’re listening to a recording and others will sound like the musicians are sitting in the damn room with you? That’s how this record sounds–it sounds alive! I can close my eyes and it sounds like the two of them are sitting around the bonfire, drinking beer with us and playing on top of the hill.

One of the cool things about this record is hearing 19 year old Matt “Guitar” Murphy playing acoustic blues with Sonny Boy. I remember listening to Murphy play, and thinking to myself how simple and wonderful it sounded. I recall saying “Shit! I can do that” to myself.

Oh yeah? Y’think?

Yeah, right.

Murphy’s guitar work is simple throughout the entire record. Simple runs. Simple progressions. Simple chords.

But, just because something is simple, doesn’t always mean that it’s easy. After having Keep it to Ourselves in my library for over twenty years, I can still put that record on and jam with the band on acoustic guitar. And, after twenty years, I still struggle to keep up on some songs.

…and I’m cool with that. This is Matt “Guitar” Murphy of Booker T and the MGs, and of the Blues Brothers Band. Ain’t no shame in him being a better guitar player than me.

But the star of the show really was Rice Miller–Sonny Boy Williamson “II”

You say you’re Sonny Boy Williamson?  These guys knew Sonny Boy Williamson.

In the 1930s and early ’40s, a guy played blues harmonica in the American South. I forget what his parents named him at birth, but his professional name was Sonny Boy Williamson. I don’t recall what happened to Sonny Boy Williamson. I guess he just died or disappeared without much fanfare.

A few years later, a guy named Alexander Rice Miller shows up out of nowhere, on the Southern Blues scene, claiming that he was Sonny Boy Williamson.

These guys looked at Miller sideways. Who was he trying to fool? These guys had all played music with Sonny Boy Williamson. Sonny Boy was a friend of theirs. Just who the fu*k does this guy think he is?

They reluctantly let Miller sit in with the band.

After they heard Miller play the harmonica and sing, they all decided that this guy was so good that he could call himself whatever he wanted. If he says his name is Sonny Boy Williamson, it’s cool with them.

Sonny Boy Williamson in England

Sonny Boy Williamson spent a lot of time in England in his later life. He would often sit in with the English kids who were playing in blues bands like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac–Yeah, can you believe it? Fleetwood damned Mac–before Stevie Nicks ruined that band–and many other up and coming young, English blues bands of the time.

According to some of the legends, Sonny Boy Williamson loved the adoration of the younger generation, and he loved the kids, too. Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, and so many others all looked at Sonny Boy Williamson like a Jedi Master.

Sonny Boy Williamson died in England in 1965 at age 57.

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  • supermabel1

    Sonny Boy and Matt Murphy certainly deserve the enthusiasm you have for their music. But there are a few incorrect facts in your piece. The Alligator CD reissued stuff recorded by Storyville Records in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1963. Matt Murphy was born in 1929, so was 33 or 34 when he recorded in Denmark with Sonny Boy. And though he appeared as a member of the Blues Brothers band alongside some ex-MGs, he was never, so far as I know, a member of the MGs. Sonny Boy had returned to the US in early 1965; he died in Helena, Arkansas, in May that year.

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