Sonny Boy Williamson II

He was born as Aleck Ford on the Sara Jones Plantation in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, his date and year of birth are a matter of uncertainty. He claimed to have been born on December 5, 1899, but one researcher, David Evans, claims to have found census record evidence that he was born around 1912. His gravestone lists his date of birth as March 11, 1908

Aleck "Rice" Miller was an African American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter.  He was also known as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Willie Williamson, Willie Miller, Little Boy Blue, The Goat and Footsie.

He lived and worked with his sharecropper stepfather, Jim Miller, whose last name he soon adopted, and mother, Millie Ford, until the early 1930s. Beginning in the 1930s, he traveled around Mississippi and Arkansas and encountered Big Joe Williams, Elmore James and Robert Lockwood, Jr., also known as Robert Junior Lockwood, who would play guitar on his later Checker Records sides. He was also associated with Robert Johnson during this period. Miller developed his style and raffish stage persona during these years. Willie Dixon recalled seeing Lockwood and Miller playing for tips in Greenville, Mississippi in the 1930s. He entertained audiences with novelties such inserting one end of the harmonica into his mouth and playing with no hands.

In 1941 Miller was hired to play the King Biscuit Time show, advertising the King Biscuit brand of baking flour on radio station KFFA in Helena, Arkansas with Lockwood.

It was at this point that the radio program's sponsor, Max Moore, began billing Miller as Sonny Boy Williamson, apparently in an attempt to capitalize on the fame of the well known Chicago-based harmonica player and singer John Lee Williamson (see Sonny Boy Williamson I). Although John Lee Williamson was a major blues star who had already released dozens of successful and widely influential records under the name "Sonny Boy Williamson" from 1937 onward, Aleck Miller would later claim to have been the first to use the name, and some blues scholars believe that Miller's assertion he was born in 1899 was a ruse to convince audiences he was old enough to have used the name before John Lee Williamson, who was born in 1914. (This is made somewhat less likely, however, by the fact that Miller was certainly older than Williamson even if one does not accept the 1899 birthdate.) Whatever the methodology, Miller became commonly known as "Sonny Boy Williamson," (universally distinguished by blues fans and musicians as "Sonny Boy Williamson number two" or "Sonny Boy Williamson the second") and Lockwood and the rest of his band were billed as the King Biscuit Boys.

Trumpet Records Williamson's first recording session took place in 1951 for Lillian McMurry of Jackson, Mississippi's Trumpet Records (three years after the death of John Lee Williamson, which for the first time allowed some legitimacy to Miller's carefully worded claim to being "the one and only Sonny Boy Williamson".) McMurry later erected Williamson's headstone, near Tutwiler, Mississippi, in 1977.

Chess Records When Trumpet went bankrupt in 1955, Sonny Boy's recording contract was yielded to its creditors, who sold it to Chess Records in Chicago, Illinois. Sonny Boy had begun developing a following in Chicago beginning in 1953, when he appeared there as a member of Elmore James's band. It was during his Chess years that he enjoyed his greatest success and acclaim, recording about 70 songs for Chess subsidiary Checker Records from 1955 to 1964.

In the early 1960s he toured Europe several times during the height of the British blues craze (see American Folk Blues Festival), recording with The Yardbirds (see album: Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds) and The Animals, and appearing on several TV broadcasts throughout Europe. According to the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods, while in England Sonny Boy set his hotel room on fire while trying to cook a rabbit in a coffee percolator. Robert Palmer's "Deep Blues" mentions that during this tour he allegedly stabbed a man during a street fight and left the country abruptly.

Sonny Boy took a liking to the European fans, and while there had a custom-made, two-tone suit tailored personally for him, along with a bowler hat, matching umbrella, and an attaché case for his harmonicas. He appears credited as "Big Skol" on Roland Kirk's live album Kirk in Copenhagen (1963).[2] One of his final recordings from England, in 1964, featured him singing "I'm Trying To Make London My Home" with Hubert Sumlin providing the guitar. Due to his many years of relating convoluted, highly fictionalized accounts of his life to friends and family, upon his return to the Delta, some expressed disbelief upon hearing of Sonny Boy's touring across the Atlantic, visiting Europe, seeing the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and other landmarks, and recording there.

Sonny Boy Williamson II has had an influence on modern day blues and blues rock artists, as is shown by the number of his songs that are still covered, including:

# Muddy Waters - "Nine Below Zero"
# Canned Heat - "Nine Below Zero"
# Junior Wells - "Help Me"
# Howlin' Wolf - "Cool Disposition"
# B. B. King - "Eyesight to the Blind"
# Mose Allison - "Eyesight to the Blind"
# John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - "Help Me", "Checkin' Up on My Baby"
# Led Zeppelin - "Bring It On Home"
# Van Morrison - "Take Your Hands Out of My Pocket", "Help Me" - both on the 1974 live album It's Too Late to Stop Now. Morrison has often sung "Help Me" in live performances throughout his long career.
# The Allman Brothers Band - "One Way Out"
# New York Dolls - "Don't Start me Talkin'"
# Ten Years After - "Help Me"
# The Who - "Eyesight to the Blind"
# Aerosmith - "Eyesight to the Blind"
# Gary Moore - "Eyesight to the Blind"
# The Blues Brothers - "From the Bottom"
# Lester Butler - "I Cross My Heart"
# Rory Gallagher - "My Baby, She Left Me", and "Don't Start me Talkin"; on the Defender album and the live bootleg, Meeting With The G-Man.
# Nine Below Zero took their band name from his song.
# The Downchild Blues Band, also known as "Downchild", took their name from his song, "Mister Downchild".
#John Popper of Blues Traveler notes Sonny Boy Williamson as a strong influence on his harmonica playing.
# Joe Bonamassa - "Your Funeral and My Trial"
# Dr. Feelgood - "Checking Up On My Baby" on their live album, Stupidity
# The Doobie Brothers - "Don't Start Me To Talkin'" from their album "Toulouse Street"

Album Collections

Nine Below Zero pass : maxy
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