Tuesday, February 20, 2007

King Biscuit Time with Sonny Boy and Daddy G

Sonny Boy Williamson - One Way Out

Bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson (Aleck "Rice" Miller, not be confused with John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, the 1940s bluesman) was the last of the "big four" Chess blues acts (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter being the other three), having joined the label in 1955 when Lillian McMurtry's Trumpet concern was sold to the Chess brothers. Williamson, a bit older than the other Chess bluesmen, had traveled with the legendary Robert Johnson (he claimed that he had warned Johnson not to drink from the bottle which poisoned him, and claimed that Johnson died in his arms), had taught his then-brother-in-law Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf) harmonica, and had hosted the immensely popular "King Biscuit Time" radio program on Helena, Arkansas radio station KFFA, where he not only plugged the show's sponsor, King Biscuit Flour, but also served as the namesake and logo of their cornmeal! (See the official King Biscuit Time website for a history of the show and its continuing legacy, and seek out the Arhoolie CD King Biscuit Time to hear an aircheck of a 1965 broadcast made shortly before Williamson's death.)

At Chess, Williamson's virtuosity on the harmonica, coupled with Williamson's clever lyrics and sly vocals (Williamson was less dependent on Willie Dixon's songs than Waters and Wolf, although records like "Help Me" and "Bring It On Home" are awesome) made Williamson a hit on the Checker label, and he took Europe by storm via the American Folk Blues Festival and other events. Although Williamson didn't live to see the ultimate "modernization" projects that would be foisted on Waters and Wolf at the end of the decade, his sound was adjusted in the '60s to add horns and a more soulful beat. Although "One Way Out" was released on Checker in 1962 as a rocking and rolling blues, a re-recording was done featuring a more modern sound. The latter version is today's selection. While "Daddy G" (Gene Barge) and the Chess horn section hunches along, Williamson has fun with the lyrics (which clearly inspired G.L. Crockett's Chicago soul classic "It's a Man Down There") and does some good harmonica blowing.

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