Top 10 Sonny Boy Williamson Songs

Sonny Boy Williamson Songs

Our Top 10 Sonny Boy Williamson Songs list presents the best Sonny Boy Williamson Songs like “Good Morning, School Girl” and many more. Best known as a blues harmonica player, singer, and songwriter, Sonny Boy Williamson was regarded as the pioneering soloist of the blues harp. Born on March 30, 1914, near Jackson, Tennessee as John Lee Curtis Williamson, Sonny Boy established himself as one of the most prolific pre-World War II blues recording artists. He also became one of the most recorded blues musicians during the 1930s and 1940s as he was closely associated with Lester Melrose and Bluebird Records. His harmonica style was a great influence on many performers from the postwar era.

Two Sonny Boys

When Aleck “Rice” Miller decided to capitalize on Williamson’s fame, he began to call himself Sonny Boy Williamson as well. In order for Miller and the real Williamson to establish their own identities, John Lee Curtis Williamson became Sonny Boy Williamson I while Aleck Miller became Sonny Boy Williamson II. Although John Lee Curtis Williamson used Sonny Boy as his monicker from 1937 onward, Rice Miller insisted the Sonny Boy Williamson name was technically his first.

Miller hoped since he was born before the real Williamson that this would be a convincing argument. However, Miller’s claim he was born in 1897 contradicted what historians concluded was actually 1912. There was also one time Miller claimed his birth year was 1899 as well. It was believed by critics and historians this was a ruse at the time to justify the use of using Sonny Boy Williamson as his stage name.

The recording career of the first Sonny Boy Williamson spanned from 1937 until his death on June 1, 1948. As for Rice Miller’s Sonny Boy Williamson monicker, it spanned from 1941 until 1964. Sonny Boy Williamson II’s lifespan was confirmed with December 5, 1912, as Miller’s real birthdate, along with May 24, 1965, as the day of his death.

These two men did meet face to face in 1942 after John Lee Williamson went to Arkansas to confront Rice Miller about the naming issue. The story has it Miller chased Williamson away and the matter technically remained unsettled. There never was a second confrontation so Miller’s usage of Sonny Boy Williamson continued. When John Lee Williamson died in 1948, Miller was able to make full use of his version of this name unchallenged until his death in 1965.

The Real Sonny Boy Williamson

The authentic Sonny Boy Williamson first joined Yank Rachell and Sleepy John Estes as a musician when he was just a teenager. Together, they played in venues located in Arkansas and Tennessee before he settled in Chicago, Illinois in 1934. Three years later, he made his first recording for Bluebird Records. “Good Morning, School Girl” became more than just a popular song that struck a chord among the black audience. It has since become a blues standard that has reached a worldwide audience, regardless of skin color and race.

From 1937 until 1947, John Lee’s Sonny Boy Williamson produced more than one hundred songs for RCA while he was with the label. Many of them turned up in the postwar repertoires of various Chicago blues artists. He was the source of inspiration for blues harmonica performers such as Billy Boy Arnold, Little Walter, Snooky Pryor, Sonny Terry, and Junior Wells. Williamson was also credited by Muddy Waters as his mentor, who began to play with him during the mid-1940s. The influence was also obvious in Jimmy Rogers as his 1946 recording as a harmonica player mirrored Williamson’s style. Rogers, Waters, and several other recording artists popularized some of Williamson’s songs in both the blues and rock genres.

The final recording performed by Sonny Boy Williamson took place in Chicago near the end of 1947. While walking home from Chicago’s Plantation Club, he was slain by a robber on June 1, 1948. He was less than two blocks away from his home when he died. His body was buried at the former site of Blairs Chapel Church, which is located southeast of Jackson, Tennessee. It can be found with a red granite marker that was purchased in 1991 by his family and fans. There’s also a historical marker in place that indicates where Williamson was born and how his brand of blues music had been so influential.

Credited to Sonny Boy Williamson I is a series of compilation albums that have been released from a number of different specialty labels. 1991’s Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order is a collection of five CDs that have his material arranged in the exact order it was recorded and released.

Top 10 Sonny Boy Williamson Songs

#10 – Decoration Blues

“Decoration Blues” was a 1938 recorded release that illustrated why John Lee’s Sonny Boy Williamson was a fan favorite as a blues musician that could sing and play the harmonica without flaw. It was among some of the songs that would spark Rice Miller’s Sonny Boy Williamson to record and release a version of his own in 1963. This was a favorite tune that several blues artists performed, which turned “Decoration Blues” into a standard. The song was about a woman who was very close to the narrator once upon a time. It’s not an authentic blues tune without sharing an experience so profound that it needs to be shared.

#8 – Better Cut That Out

Recorded in 1947, “Better Cut That Out” was among the final songs performed by Sonny Boy Williamson before he was killed on June 1, 1948. As a blues harmonica musician, John Lee brought a brand of music to the audience that was more than simply top-notch entertainment. It was inspiring. It also summed up the genres of blues and jazz that recording labels like Chess, Deezer, and Motown capitalized on.

Williamson is still credited to this day by fans and recording artists as one of the pioneers of an industry that continues to evolve today. As a song that revolved around drinking and lifestyle choices, Williamson made this brand of blues a trademark that bounced back and forth between his vocal talent and harmonica. Rice Miller also made “Better Cut That Out” a popular favorite as he sported the Sonny Boy Williamson name himself

#7 – Sloppy Drunk

“Sloppy Drunk” was among the many popular blues harmonica tunes that came from Sonny Boy Williamson. Recorded on July 2, 1941, while signed to Bluebird Records, the mix of vocals and harmonica played out the preference of drinking into a stupor over having to contend with the world and its dark realities. The song was an entertaining Chicago blues number that toyed with enough jazz to make this an easy favorite.

#6 – Hoodoo Hoodoo

Also known as “Hoodoo Man Blues,” “Hoodoo Hoodoo” became one of Sonny Boy Williamson’s best-known recordings. This was one of many songs that had fans of Junior Wells mistakenly think it was his before realizing it came from Williamson first. Wells was a big fan of Sonny Boy Williamson, even going as far as suggesting the father of blues harmonica as one of his mentors.

“Hoodoo Hoodoo” became a blues standard after it was first released in 1947 that has seen various versions of the song recorded by artists such as Eric Clapton, John Hammond, and the Rolling Stones.

#5 – Shake the Boogie

Released in 1947, “Shake the Boogie” became a number four hit on what used to be known as the US Billboard Race Records chart. Nowadays, it’s referred to as the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Sonny Boy Williamson was thirty-two years old when he recorded this song, suggesting he still had much to give as a blues artist. Unfortunately, his life was cut short in a strong arm robbery when he was walking home after finishing a performance at Chicago’s Plantation Club.

“Shake the Boogie” was a fast and furious jazzy number that inspired a number of aspiring musicians to make their mark as recording artists themselves. Junior Wells and Muddy Waters were among the few who credit Williamson as one of their personal mentors.

#4 – Stop Breaking Down

“Stop Breaking Down” was a song originally performed in 1937 by Robert Johnson. He was sharing his personal experience with certain women in the form of a song that would inspire Sonny Boy Williamson to cover a version of his own in 1945. What started out as a Delta blues number by Johnson became a Chicago blues classic by Williamson. His version was enough to inspire Junior Wells and Buddy Guy to team up and do the same in 1968. This led to The Rolling Stones revving it up as a rock number in 1972.

#3 – Early in the Morning

Recorded and released by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1937, “Early in the Morning” became one of his most successful and influential blues tunes. The song was based on the 1929 recording by pianist Charlie Spand that was titled “Soon This Morning.” The origins of that song, plus one of Williamson’s signature tunes, date even further back by a few months to Leroy Carr’s “Truthful Blues.”

The vocals and harmonica became Williamson’s signature call and response that would dance against each other as part of the performance. This is what became the fundamental sound of blues harmonica. “Early in the Morning” was among many popular tunes coming from Williamson’s repertoire that didn’t need to appear on any official music charts in order to become a cult classic. Junior Wells was inspired enough by Williamson’s recordings to give it a go himself. Just like Williamson, his version didn’t appear on any official music charts but joined the ranks as a cult favorite in its own right.

#2 – Sugar Mama

In 1934, Yank Rachell recorded and released “Sugar Farm Blues.” At the time, Sonny Boy Williamson was a close colleague who collaborated with the blues artist often. “Sugar Mama” was a song that came from this collaboration. For Williamson, his recorded version was released in 1937. Also referred to as “Sugar Mama Blues,” this slow and powerful number became more than a favorite blues tune.

It became a standard that had many musicians who made a niche out of blues rock perform versions of their own. From Tampa Red’s 1934 coverage to Led Zeppelin’s reworked version. Zeppelin’s recording wouldn’t be released until 2015, despite the fact this was material they worked on at the start of their career as a rock group.

#1 – Good Morning, School Girl

Recorded and released in 1937, “Good Morning, School Girl” was the enchanting debut of Sonny Boy Williamson that won over the audience throughout the southern United States and the American Midwest. This song became especially popular in Chicago, Illinois, and Detroit, Michigan. This song turned Sonny Boy Williamson into an icon with his blues harmonica.

“Good Morning, School Girl” was an uptempo blues tune that became a Chicago blues favorite despite its Tennessee-based roots. Inspired by 1934’s “Back and Side Blues” by Son Bonds, Williamson’s vocal and harmonic play was accompanied by Big Joe Willams and Robert Lee McCoy as guitarists. This song inspired a number of renditions and versions that made it become a blues standard. It also became a favorite song that was covered in genres of R&B and rock. In 1990, it was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the Classics of Blues Recordings in its Single or Album Track category.

Feature Photo: ehrlif / Shutterstock

Top 10 Sonny Boy Williamson Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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