I know should be writing about Chuck Berry RIP, but after a weekend vinyl discovery in the Hornbeam cafe on the corner of my street, the markontour Album of the Week #16 goes to another singer-songwriter legend – Sonny Boy Williamson – and his ‘Down And Out Blues’.
Recorded in 1959 on Chicago’s Checker Records, a susidiary of the Chess Records label which shunted Chuck Berry further up the road to rock ‘n’ roll fame in the same year with ‘Johnny B. Goode’, the songs on ‘Down And Out Blues’ suit its title. Side One features domestic discord and lost love, warming us up for Side Two’s ‘Fattening Frogs for Snakes’ lament about the unfairness of life in general. The self-explanatory ‘Your Funeral And My Trial’ rounds things off, although there’s a bit of humour in between.
At first glance I thought I had found the inspiration for the Rolling Stone’s ‘Love in Vain‘, but t’interweb credits that to Robert Johnson – the man who sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads.
Reading the sleeve I did learn, however, that like the Dread Pirate Roberts in the brilliant children’s film ‘The Princess Bride’, Sonny Boy Williamson was a kind of a franchise. When the original Sonny Boy, an accomplished blues singer, died young courtesy of a well-aimed ice-pick to the head in a Chicago club, blues harp player Alex Miller thought it a shame to let a great name die with him and promptly appropriated it.
Having released his first LP in his late-forties, Sonny Boy enjoyed half a decade of semi-fame in the blues-mad England of the early 1960s, playing with The Yardbirds, The Animals and future members of Led Zeppellin. But the Sonny Boy Williamson name wasn’t destined to survive attached to one body for long, and SBWII succummbed to a heart attack in a rooming house in Arkansas in 1965, while Chuck Berry was riding a comeback wave courtesy of ‘No Particular Place To Go’.
So while ‘Maybelline’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and the discourse on the birth of rock ‘n’ roll has dominated the weekend airwaves, markontour is bedding down to old time Monday blues in Paris.