Sonny Boy Williamson & The Yardbirds, Live In London

Charles Shaar Murray

By Charles Shaar Murray

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

According to legend — or according to Robbie Robertson, which is almost the same thing — when the venerable blues harmonica virtuoso Sonny Boy Williamson returned to the U.S. in 1965 after his final European tour, his assessment of the British bands who'd backed him was, "They want to play the blues so bad — and they play the blues SO BAD."

Williamson’s twilight, Clapton’s dawn

Cut at a late 1963 club date with the Yardbirds, this finds the old master in his twilight and 18-year-old guitarist Eric Clapton just before his dawn. Sonny Boy makes up with wily panache what the years have stolen in vitality and stamina, while the downy, uncertain Yardbirds — lower-middle-class suburban English wannabes trying to rise to the challenge of working with the Real Thing — cautiously tiptoe around him. This likeable curio of an album represents none of the participants at their best, but where else can you find both Eric Clapton's baby pictures and Sonny Boy's next-to-last hurrah?