This isn’t about the punk classic “London Calling”, we are calling Chicago, through British bluesman Cyril Davies. His “Chicago Calling” is everything a good blues song needs. Kicking off with a killer honky-tonk Piano tune, and wild swinging harmonica melodies the up-tempo vocals start in. “Chicago Calling” is enjoyable every one of the 145 seconds.
Well, the swinging rhythms and virtuous harmonica might indicate this is a happy song, but Sonny Boy Williamson’s II “Your Funeral, My Trial”, is a gangsta rap kind of song. It was recorded on his debut album Down and Out Blues and released on Checker records in 1959.
King of the Harmonica
Sonny Boy Williamson has always been a mysterious figure. That gives in some way a romantic side to his story. We are not sure when he was born and also his birth name is uncertain. But we do know that Williamson was one hell of a harmonica player. Multiple songs show his gifted talent and dedication to this instrument. His hit song “Nine Below Zero” is a perfect example of why they called him the king of the Harmonica.
“Please come home to your daddy, and explain yourself to me
Because I and you are man and wife, tryin’ to start a family
I’m beggin’ you baby, cut out that off the wall jive
If you can’t treat me no better, it gotta be your funeral and my trial”
Billy Boy Arnold’s Legacy as a Chicago Blues harpist
In the Chicago blues scene of the 1950s Billy Boy Arnold was doing a whole lot of recordings. He learned harp from Sonny Boy ‘John Lee’ Williamson just before Williamson’s death. He worked in his uncle’s store during those days and Williamson lived close.
As a teenager he debuted at the Cool label with the song “Hello Stranger” in 1952. A few years later he was part of the Bo Diddley band that recorded ‘I’m A Man’ for Checker records. As a solo musician for Veejay he recorded songs like I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You”. But Billy Boy Arnold never reached the fame other Chicago bluesman around had. Nevertheless, the bluesman who was born and raised in Chicago recorded some of the finest Rhythm ‘nd Blues songs.
Learning harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson I
In an interview with L. “Chicago Beau” Beauchamp Billy Boy Arnold explained how the blues came to him. “Billy Boy Arnold’ s father, mother, sisters and grandparents all like and listened to the blues, so for Billy Boy the blues was the music he had to play. In his teenage years Arnold had a job in his uncle’s Butcher Shop, he learned Sonny Boy lived close and one day a man with a guitar around his neck, probably Lazy Bill Lucas walked by. Billy asked the men if he knew where Sonny Boy lived, the bluesman knew Sonny’s address and with his cousin Archie, Billy Boy went to 3226 South Giles and rang the bell. The blues master openened the door and said “Can I help you?”. Billy wanted to learn harmonica, Sonny boy said “Come on up, I’m proud to have you”.” (BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual, by Lincoln T. Beauchamp)
“A week later Billy returned to Sonny Boy’s house, he hadn’t improved his harmonica skills much. Sonny Boy thought Billy Boy came by to trade comics, because Williamson traded comics with a lot kids in the neighborhood. Billy Boy made clear he came around for harmonica lessons, the old master showed the kid how to play.” Sonny Boy Williamson was a really optimistic guy, Happy Go Lucky. (BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual, by Lincoln T. Beauchamp)
Sonny Boy´s Death and performing with Bo Diddley
One day in 1948, Yank Rachell tells, Sonny Boy Williamson stepped out of a cab on his way home, some other guys on the street jumped on Sonny Boy, knocked him down and robbed his money. Sonny Boy “John Lee” Williamson wouldn’t survive the robbery. Billy Boy Arnold lost his teacher but would go on. The Maxwell street market was a popular place for Blues Musicians. Earl Hooker, Muddy Waters and Little Walter all performed there. Billy Boy Arnold met Bo Diddley at the market, they started playing blues together. In 1955 Billy Boy was part of the band that recorded “I’m a Man for Checker records.
Billy Boy Arnold at Vee Jay Records
Billy Boy Arnold believed Leonard Chess didn´t like him, so he signed with Veejay Records . At Veejay Records he released songs like `I Wish You Would` and ´I Ain´t Got You´, here Billy Boy Arnold came to his best Rhythm ‘nd Blues songs. The songs were catchy Rhythmic and easy listenable. Maybe inspired by Bo Diddley but probably by his own feeling Billy Recorded some of the finest tunes around. Listen also to “Rockin’Itis”.
`I Wish You Would`
´I Ain´t Got You´
The late Sixties blues
After releasing the ‘More Blues From The South Side’ album the opportunities dried up which led to a small goodbye to the artist life. Billy Boy took jobs as a bus driver and even became a parole officer.
Billy Boy Arnold at Alligator Records
In 1992 Billy Boy made his come back at Alligator Records with the album BACK WHERE I BELONG. We would see a new Arnold with a repertoire containing more classic blues songs like ‘Fine Young Girl’ . Also ‘Whiskey Beer and Reefer’ is a traditional blues song. Alligator writes about this album: “the combination of Delta-influenced blues with a more urban sophistication not only defines Arnold’s sound, but was also a significant contribution in the early, formative days of rock and roll”. ELDORADO CADILLAC’s was the next album recorded for Alligator. Billy Boy Arnold was like R.L. Burnside and T. Model Ford back on top of business during the nineties.
The great Chicago Billy Boy Arnold can look back at a career that lasts more than sixty years. He plays blues and Rhythm and Blues. He recorded for a whole lot of record labels. The music and legacy of this blues master is worth and ode.
Billy Boy Arnold Plays Sonny Boy Williamson
Billy Boy Arnold Back Where I Belong
Billy Boy Arnold – Oh! Me! Oh! My! Blues
From Bruce DiMattia – An interview with bluesman, Billy Boy Arnold, world famous blues vocalist, harmonica player and song writer, at the Chicago Blues Festival, June 1992.
Shake that Boogie
Ohio and West Coast one man band blues of Blind Joe Hill
Blind Joe Hill was a bluesman in the tradition of musicians like Joe Hill Louis and Jesse Fuller, the tradition of excellent one man band performers. Blind Joe Hailed from Akron Ohio for the bigger part of his life until he moved to the West Coast. During his Ohio days Joe Hill recorded for the Barrelhouse Record Label a rare album called Boogie In The Dark at the Glass Finger Studios.
Blind Joe Hill Fannie Mae
I listenend to his song Fannie Mae one of Blind Joe Hill’s better known recordings today. Like other one man band performers you really feel the song building up. Starting with the catchy guitar and harmonica, which slowly gets accompanied by the drums where the hi-hat starts ticking, the bass drum sets the beat and the guitar guides the song into a full grown composition. Then.. Blind Joe Hill starts singing.
Buster Brown 1# hit recording
‘Fannie Mae’ was already a hit before Blind Joe Started playing the song. In 1959 Rhythm ‘n blues singer Buster Brown wrote and recorded this song, which became famous through the tricky harmonica riff. Buster scored a #1 hit with ‘Fannie Mae’ in 1960. Nevertheless Blind Joe Hill did a good job transforming this song into a folk blues masterpiece.
Maxwell street Chicago blues harpist Big John Wrencher
Big Joe Wrencher also known as “one arme John” was one of the best harmonica players of the Maxwell Street Market in Chicago.
Like Little Walter , Earl Hooker and Hound Dog Taylor , Wrencher was always around to play that Blues on Maxwell street with the boys. In 1958 Wrencher lost his left arm as a result of a car accident outside Memphis, Tennessee. His album Big John’s Boogie is one of my favorite!
Joe Wrencher originally from Mississippi travelled to St. Louis and Detroit before he settled in Chicago in the sixties. In Chicago Big Joe Wrencher became a regular at the Maxwell Street market, where he performed regularly. His performances at the Maxwell Street Market where featured on the Barrelhouse label recording Maxwell Street Alley Blues (1974).
Big John Wrencher – RUNNIN’ WILD
Steady boogie beat and bass… Grooving vocals
Boogie Chicago Blues from Maxwell Street
Big Joe Wrencher had a whole lot of boogie, in comparison to other Chicago blues musicians and that is what you will notice listening to his Songs. He had an innovative way of playing the blues with his powerful voice and strong boogie-style of harmonica playing.
Big Joe Wrencher back to Mississippi
Throughout his career Big Joe performed in juke joints and even went to Europe to play at some festivals. While playing around Europe and the US he kept returning to Maxwell Street. In 1977 He decided to return to Mississippi, In Mississippi Wrencher met with fellow bluesman in Wade Walton’s Barbershop in Clarksdale. Biog Joe Wrencher suddenly dropped dead from a heart attack at age 1954. His last bottle of whiskey is permanently ensconced on a shelf at Walton’s Barbershop.
Robert Crumb cover art
The Maxwell street alley Blues album was designed by blues enthusiast and illustrator Robert Crumb. Crumb made a cool graphic and cooler lettering for the cover art. Check the cover and work of Robert Crumb here.
Wade Walton’s Barbershop
Big John’s Boogie Album on Spotify
Big John Wrencher & Eddie Taylor ~ ”Telephone Blues’
Big John Wrencher – TROUBLE MAKIN’ WOMAN
Big John Wrencher – Rough tough boogie
Big John Wrencher – Maxwell street alley blues
Rubbin’ My Root – Big John Wrencher & His Maxwell Street Blues Boys
The Life and Times of Chicago’s Legendary Maxwell Street 1964
Find out more about the history of Maxwell Street by watching this documentary. a cool portrait of Chicago and Maxwell street in 1964.