Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tuesday Is (Heavy, Funky) Blues Day!

Little Sonny - The Creeper

Blues singer/harmonica player Little Sonny (born Aaron Willis) was one of the most popular Detroit live blues acts as the '60s gave way to the '70s. Being one of the younger acts in town, he embraced soul and funk as part of his repertoire, which allowed him to do his thing when many older blues artists were starting to struggle due to the dwindling black audience for their music. Sonny (who, contrary to some reports, was not nicknamed after Sonny Boy Williamson - he received his nickname from his mother) had recorded for Duke, Excello and his own Speedway label with no success. In 1966 he leased the instrumental two-sider "The Creeper" (not to be confused with the Freddie Robinson record of the same name) b/w "Latin Soul" to Revilot, which was picking up steam with Darrell Banks and the Parliaments. Sonny had three 45 releases on Revilot, none of which caught fire outside of Detroit, and upon the label's demise in 1969 he made his way down to Stax Records, where he found a sympathetic outlet on the Enterprise label. Although his Enterprise tenure (three LPs and a handful of singles) did not make him a household name, it was his most successful, with records like his version of "Wade In The Water" making a little noise and Sonny making an appearance at the 1972 Watts Summer Festival ("Wattstax").

One of the first recordings Sonny did for Enterprise was a remake of "The Creeper" entitled "The Creeper Returns." The original tune had been inspired by a murderous villain from a thriller Sonny had seen, and the slinky, somewhat ominous groove certainly captures that atmosphere. Sonny was not happy with the Revilot release, however, deeming it too heavy-handed and wrongly mixed (a position Rob Bowman supports in his liner notes to the Stax singles box sets). For the Enterprise version, Sonny dispensed with the horn section and lightened up the groove slightly to make the song move more smoothly. Although I admit that "The Creeper Returns" is a great record, I'm actually partial to the original. The drums are indeed very heavy, and the horn chart is pretty ham-fisted, but I think the overall result is one of heavy, sexy slow funk, over which Sonny's harmonica work is more brilliant than in "The Creeper Returns."

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