Bob Dylan has never been by any stretch of the imagination an original in the practice of his art. He has borrowed quite liberally from a number i=-of older black blues musicians throughout his career, as has done a great number of other musicians from the 1960s. The coming series of articles is not meant in anyway to lessen Dylan’s standing, stature or significance in the pages of musical or cultural history. He is and shall remain forever an icon of music. They are meant more to contextualize Dylan instead. That said, if you loved bob Dylan, you should try Sonny Boy Williamson.
If you Google the name Sonny Boy Williamson, the two gentlemen above will turn up both under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. The gentleman on the right is Sonny Boy Williamson I and the one on the left is Sonny Boy Williamson II. However, they are not related. Confused? Don’t be. There is a very complicated, yet simple answer.
Sonny Boy Williamson I was born John Lee Curtis Williamson March 30, 1914. He is where our story begins. He began his career in 1930 at the age of 16 and developed into one of the most influential harmonica players of all time. His tone and phrasing were the baseline for which everyone in the future began their training. His influence was felt even by Sonny Boy II, who added his own genius on top of what his predecessor had done. The language of the harmonica developed faster then it had at any other point in its existence.
Then came Sonny Boy II.
There is very little known about Sonny Boy II.
“He got his big break in 1941 when he hustled his way into a radio show for the manageeryr at KFFA radio station in Helena, Arkansas. He and guitarist Robert Lockwood auditioned for the executives of the Interstate Grocery Co, who agreed to sponsor the King Biscuit Time show. In return for promoting the company’s flour products, the musicians were able to advertise their nightly gigs. Here is where things become a bit murky, though, because at some point early on in the show’s history (November 1941-44), Rice Miller adopted the name Sonny Boy Williamson. He and Lockwood can be seen performing together in this silent footage taken from King Biscuit Time.
It is simply not known who came up with the deceit. Some people have claimed it was the musician’s idea, some claim that Interstate Grocery Owner Max Moore came up with the plan as a ruse to market his goods to African-Americans who liked the blues. The original Sonny Boy Williamson was already a well-known figure (he had scored a hit with his song ‘Good Morning, School Girl’ back in 1937), and blurring the identities of the two performers was an astute (if underhand) tactic.(…)
Sonny Boy Williamson – John Lee Curtis Williamson – but word of the deception reached him, and the Chicago-based musician went to Arkansas in 1942 to confront the man who had stolen his name. Lockwood was later quoted as saying that Williamson II “chased” the original Sonny Boy out of town.“
Sonny Boy II would literally step into I’s life and become the man. II was seemingly older than I, though again we cannot be sure because of the little we know about Sonny Boy II. He would push the fame Sonny Boy I had built up further into the mainstream of pop and, in the process, gain a legion of followers both among the fans and peers.
Many people make the mistake of not looking at the entire picture of Rock & Roll history. Men like Bill Haley and other early “Rock & Rollers” would not be the true pioneers that the blues visionaries would. Bob Dylan’s musical style and stage persona owe more to men like
both Sonny Boy Willamsons’ than early rockers.
oy II. He would push the bounds of I’s fame further into the realm of mainstream popbecome famousowq in d Details about his life – even his real life birth name – were not known. What would become known is his talent for the music. Sonny Boy II’s influence on Dylan and a whole generation of musicians is still being felt today by all, even if they still do not know his name.gh