Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 1 (1937 – 1938)

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Chicago blues harp begins here.

Rooted in rural blues and jug-band harmonica players of the '20s, the first Sonny Boy (John Lee Williamson) used a tongue-blocking technique to help make his harp a forceful lead instrument rather than background atmosphere. A seductive vocalist, he compensated for a speech impediment by singing vowels longer and consonants harder, creating a languorous effect that others wound up imitating. His 1937 recording debut yielded the immortal "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl." Backed by guitarists like Robert Lee McCoy (Robert Nighthawk), Williamson answered his own vocal with a blast of harmonica, then went back to singing, an approach previously unheard of. Muddy Waters broadened that idea for his postwar, guitar-harmonica bands. Although men like Little Walter soon developed even more aggressive attacks, Chicago blues harp begins here.