Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sonny Boy Williamson

  • The Real Folk Blues [Chess, 1966]
  • This Is My Story [Chess, 1972]
  • Keep It to Ourselves [Alligator, 1990] A-
  • The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson [Chess, 1993] A

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Real Folk Blues [Chess, 1966]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

This Is My Story [Chess, 1972]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library]

Keep It to Ourselves [Alligator, 1990]
With his unerring slur and direct wit, Sonny Boy II, born Rice Miller circa 1897 and dead some 68 years later, is Chicago's third W: his great Chess albums stand with Wolf or Muddy. These 1963 recordings, culled from two much sparer purist LPs on a Danish label, are late-night visits to the Delta where he saw the light and kicked the bucket, and what they show off above all is his sexy, long-suffering harmonica cry. Where fools like his star pupil James Cotton strain against the dynamic limitations of that little piece of steel, Sonny Boy plays it like he sings it like he talks it--slyly, lethally, whispering complaints, secrets, existential questions, and promises made to be broken to anyone who ventures within earshot. Guitarist Matt Murphy on most cuts and pianist-vocalist Memphis Slim on a few are all the friends he needs. A-

The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson [Chess, 1993]
Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf cast themselves as forces of nature--fecund, feral. They were younger men, and for them blues already had an aura of myth. In his personal life, the former Rice Miller was harder to control than either. But when it came to business, the least famed of Chess's three W's did what had to be done, which turned out to mean electrifying in the '30s and impersonating Sonny Boy I, a harmonica hero half as talented and 15 years his junior. Miller's writing was as factual as a police complaint, his groove as sexy as a swamp in June, and he sang in the strong, slurred, subtle voice of someone who'd been talking his way out of shit since he learned to say maybe. Songs like "Eyesight to the Blind" and "Nine Below Zero" and "Fattening Frogs for Snakes" are in the canon. Songs like "Too Young To Die" and "Santa Claus" should be. A