John Lee Curtis Williamson – Sonny Boy Williamson I


Sonny Boy Williamson (John Lee Curtis Williamson, March 30, 1914 — June 1, 1948) was an American blues harp player, and the first to use the name Sonny Boy Williamson. He is often ‘overshadowed’ by another great harp player who took his name (Sonny Boy Williamson II)  Aleck Rice Miller, but no one can doubt he took blues harp playing to another level. He stretched the boundaries of the instrument by the  use of his hands and his imaginative fills and using it more for lead instrument playing by his ‘call and response’ method of alternating vocals with instrumental verses.

Born in Jackson, Tennessee, Williamson taught himself the harmonica as a child, influenced by great players like Will Shade and Hammie Nixon from nearby Memphis. By the time that he had reached his teens, he was already a master of the instrument. Using the name “Sonny Boy” Williamson, he traveled during the depression, performing with artists like Robert Nighthawk and Sleepy John Estes. Although cut down, prematurely, in 1948 by a mugger, he left enough of a legacy to influence such players as Little Walter just as electrical microphones  took the instrument to new heights.

Listen to some of his music below:

Jackson Blues

Springtime blues

Yank Rachel, a sideman who was part of Sonny Boy’s and  Tampa Red’s circle at the time, says that on the stage of the Leland Hotel in Chicago, in early 1939, Williamson, Rachel and others made the first recording of the blues performed electrically. The song was, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”

Good Morning,Little Schoolgirl

Million Year Blues

Bluebird Blues

Got the bottle up and Gone

Welfare Store Blues

And what about some biography – a two part documentary on the life and blues of John Lee Curtis Williamson

Part 1

Part 2

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~ by Ray Harris on April 7, 2010.

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