All songs by Williamson, BasinStreet Music, ASCAP except "The Sky Is Crying," by Lewis, Robinson& James, Longtitude Music, BMI.Sonny Boy Williamson, Harmonica and VocalsMatt "Guitar" Murphy, GuitarMem...
All songs by Williamson, BasinStreet Music, ASCAP except "The Sky Is Crying," by Lewis, Robinson& James, Longtitude Music, BMI.Sonny Boy Williamson, Harmonica and VocalsMatt "Guitar" Murphy, GuitarMemphis Slim, Piano* (Vocal on "Same Girl")Billie Stepney, Drums (on "Movin' Out"only)Produced by Karl Emil KnudsenRecorded Nov. 1, 1963 at Ivar Rosenberg Studios,Copenhagen, DenmarkEngineered by Ivar RosenbergCover photo by Bengt MalmquistCover design by Matt MindeLicensed from Storyville Records, Copenhagen,DenmarkReissue produced by Bruce IglauerReissue mastered by Tom Coyne at DMS, New York,NY
hen "Willie" Rice Miller,aka Sonny Boy Williamson, made these intimate, casual recordings in1963, he was already (probably) 66 years old. Most of his long careerwas over; only two years later he would die in his little apartmentin Helena, Arkansas. He was recognized as a giant throughout theblues world as a harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, prolificrecording artist, live performer and wildly colorful personality.
Starting in 1951 and continuing into the '60s, Sonny Boy made someof the most influential blues records of all time -- "Help Me,'"Eyesight To the Blind," "Nine Below Zero," "Mighty Long Time," "OneWay Out," "Don't Start Me Talking," "Keep It To Yourself," "Bring ItOn Home," and dozens more. But he had never recorded before like hedid on this one night in Copenhagen: in a totally acoustic setting,sometimes with just his voice and harmonica, sometimes with only Matt"Guitar" Murphy backing him, sometimes joined by his old friendMemphis Slim on piano. Drums appear on only one song. Theserecordings capture a personal, improvisational side of Sonny Boy'smusic that has been rarely heard on record.
Rice Miller began his career in the 1920s in the MississippiDelta. He was born near Glendora, Mississippi in either1894,1897,1908 or 1909, depending on which of his interviews anddocuments you choose to believe. Certainly he was a wanderingmusician from an early age; bluesmen like Robert Junior Lockwoodremember him playing on street corners and at dances in the Deltaplantation towns around 1930. Sometimes he would be accompanied by aguitar player, but often by nothing more than his own snappingfingers to keep time. He developed a delicate yet rugged style ofharmonica that perfectly fit his voice; it's almost as though theywere the same instrument. As Paul Oliver put it, "his harmonica spokea language of our time: tortured, wailing, crying, and strangelybeautiful -- its effect was powerfully human. His large, callousedlips enfolded the cheap harps he played and he seemed to mold thenotes through the long fingers of his hands, which were laid palm topalm as if he were to take a long drink of water from them. He wouldutter the words of his blues from the side of his mouth, slipping theharp between his lips as he finished a vocal phrase so that themelody was sustained on the instrument. When he sang, his voice washusky, sometimes almost gutteral, at other times near a whisper. Andthrough it all, his impeccable sense of timing pervaded." His soundwas entirely his own. He was a tremendous influence on other players;every blues harmonica player since Sonny Boy has struggled to masterhis style. You can hear his licks played by James Cotton (whom SonnyBoy raised and tutored), Junior Wells, Howling Wolf, Junior Parkerand literally hundreds of other harp players. But one listen to SonnyBoy and you'll know no one else was quite the same.
After years of wandering from town to town in the Delta, Sonny Boyfound a home in 1941 at KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas. TheInterstate Grocery Company put him on the air for 15 minutes a day atlunch time to advertise King Biscuit Flour. "King Biscuit Time"became an institution in the Delta; it's still on the air afteralmost 50 years (and now plays Sonny Boy's records). The sound ofSonny Boy's harp and his swinging little bands, including greatguitarists like Robert Junior Lockwood, Joe Willie Wilkins, ElmoreJames and Houston Stackhouse, could be heard across the Delta at atime when very little blues was heard on the radio. He was a star inthe Delta, playing dances and parties every weekend and broadcastingvirtually every weekday for ten years. At some point around this timeRice Miller "borrowed" the professional name of John Lee "Sonny Boy"Williamson, the extremely popular blues recording artist who himselfwas a major innovator on harmonica. Miller, being the older of thetwo men, liked to insist that he was the "original Sonny Boy' eventhough his recording career didn't begin until after John LeeWilliamson's untimely death in 1948.
In fact, for all his popularity in the Delta, Sonny Boy didn'tmake a record himself until 1951, when Lillian McMurry of TrumpetRecords took him and his band into the studio in Jackson, Mississippito cut his first sides - "Eyesight To The Blind," "Cross My Heart,"and "Pontiac Blues" among them. When his records began to sell, hewas lured away by Chess Records in Chicago, where he recorded intothe early '60s. Sonny Boy became one of Chess' great blues stars,along with Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, and hisrecordings for Chess, like his Trumpet sides, were masterpieces ofsmall band blues. In fact, few bluesmen could claim to have made somany brilliant records as Sonny Boy; it's hard to think of a singlesong he recorded not worth listening to again and again.
In the early '60s, when European fans began discovering the blues,Sonny Boy was among the first American bluesmen to tour Europe. Hewent over with the groundbreaking American Folk Blues Festivalcaravan in 1963 and found a kind of adulation among the young, whitefans that he had never experienced in the States. He stayed in Europeafter the tour, gigging with Memphis Slim in Poland and with theYardbirds in England (including the young Eric Clapton on guitar). Heloved the formal British businessmen's suits, and adopted them forhis own, sometimes even carrying a rolled-up umbrella on stage. Itwas during a swing through Denmark that Karl Emil Knudsen ofStoryville Records took him into the studio for one long evening ofrecording. The sides from that session were issued on two Danishalbums, and the "cream" of those casual, improvised recordings hasbeen culled for this Alligator release.
After spending months in Europe in 1963 and 1964, Sonny Boyreturned to Helena and began broadcasting again on King Biscuit Time.Few of his old friends believed his stories about touring Europe;after all, he was the same colorful storyteller they had known fordecades. He died on May 26,1965 in the Delta where his career began.
A technical note: in the course of 27 years, the original Danishtapes from which this album was mastered have deteriorated veryslightly. At a few spots in the record, you may hear a momentary"dropout" in which the music on one stereo channel drops in level.There is no way to correct these slight flaws. We trust they won'thurt your pleasure in listening to this wonderful music.