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Sonny Boy Williamson: King Biscuit Time (Arhoolie CD 310)


Well before Muddy moved to Chicago...one Rice Miller - aka “Sonny Boy Williamson II” was - w/the crucial aid of Robert Johnson’s son-in-law (Robert Jnr. Lockwood) & an anarchic ex-tapdancer called James “Peck” Curtis - busily modernising the delta blues...courtesy of their sponsor “King Biscuit Flour” on local Arkansas station KFFA.

Regular broadcasts - sans Peck - started as early as 1941...right before the start of the wartime shellac shortage. Within a year, Rice & Robert’d roped in the mighty “Peck” - undoubtedly thee finest free-form blues drummer ever (no contest), soon to be followed by one “Dudlow” on piano - and they could...then, easily (in those isolated days), pretend to be what they damn-well weren’t...

But - interestingly - what they were was far, far more important than what the (real) Sonny Boy had to offer by this stage... Because, whilst he was still (basically) delivering one more variation on the “Bluebird” house sound of 30s Chicago blues...down south, Rice & Robert were in the midst of developing the original band approach that served as the engine-room of all of the rockin’ Mississippi valley sounds to emerge over the next decade or so...including rockabilly, I’d venture to say...

Still...that’s not - exactly - what (finally) made it onto record, nigh-on a decade later. Robert Jnr. was long gone (although his heir stuck to his sound), and “Peck” - despite his radio fame - was considered far too weird for recording purposes. Still...the result is the closest we’ll (now) hear to that historically crucial outfit (apart from one Ike Turner-recorded session - w/dodgy sound - that’s also never been widely available). The characteristic feel is best described as pumping - the vocals/harp riding atop, amidst the (somewhat) muffled, yet richly distorted guitar lead/rhythm - underpinned by the mostly inextricably mixed piano/drums groove, whilst...snapping his fingers, and slyly mouthing many of the finest original lines in modern blues, “Sonny Boy” gleefully screwed w/our minds...

And, that ain’t all. Because - unlike any of its competitors we have on record - this was a band that, even w/out the truly anarchic “Peck” on board, clearly enjoyed turning the beat around...most evidently on the stunning “Come on Back Home”.

Still...admittedly, I’d have to say that this collection is far from ideally programmed...not to mention the fact that a handful of the very finest cuts - such as the truly awesome “No Nights by Myself” - aren’t here...but, most of the best are. However, Arhoolie - in characteristically generous fashion - have also included a genuinely rugged radio broadcast from the early 60s - this time including the mighty “Peck”...so, you’d have to be a fool to miss this one. Cause blues literally turning into rock’n’roll has never been so evident as here...in (crucial) King Biscuit Time...




John Henry Calvinist