Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Trim: 6¼ x 9½
978-1-4422-5442-8 • Hardback • October 2016 • $56.00 • (£43.00)
978-1-4422-5443-5 • eBook • October 2016 • $53.00 • (£41.00)
Mitsutoshi Inaba holds a doctorate in musicology and ethnomusicology from the University of Oregon. He currently teaches courses on African American studies with a focus on music at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. He is the author of Willie Dixon: Preacher of the Blues (2011).
Chapter 1: Learning the Blues: Jackson, Tennessee: 1914–1937
Chapter 2: Reaching New Heights: St. Louis and Aurora, Illinois: 1937–1938
Chapter 3: Windy City Blues: Chicago: 1939–1943
Chapter 4: The Sound of Bronzeville: 1943-1948
Chapter 5:The Final Days: 1948
Epilogue Sonny Boy’s Legacy: 1948–Present
Williamson, one of the well-known blues harmonica players and singers from the golden era of the blues, gets the royal treatment from musicologist Inaba, who elevates him as an American musical innovator. Williamson was born in 1914 and nicknamed Sonny Boy by his grandmother in his native Tennessee. When he was 11, his mother gave him a harmonica, sparking endless hours of practice until he could perform locally. Blues fans acknowledge Williamson’s supreme talent on the blues harp, which was recorded in the 1937–1938 Aurora sessions and the 1938–1948 Chicago dates. When the singer joined the blues legends of the popular Bluebird Records in its glory days, his clever phrasing and dazzling harp technique sent his fans rushing to buy his more than 120 recorded sides for the Bluebird and RCA Victor labels. He also recorded a smash hit, 'Good Morning, School Girl,' in 1937. Inaba pays much attention to Williamson’s drinking problem, womanizing, and reckless behavior leading to his murder in 1948—maybe too much. Despite Williamson’s flaws, Inaba confirms the prickly singer, who transformed down-home country blues into a unique up-tempo urban jump sound, as a genuine folk hero influential in one of America’s signature musical forms.
— Publishers Weekly
This one, originally started as a collaboration with Jim O’Neal, is a very easy read indeed. It flows beautifully and sweeps the reader along effortlessly....The bibliography is impressively thorough. Heartily recommended.
— Blues & Rhythm
[A]uthor Mitsutoshi Inaba traces Williamson’s life, providing in-depth examinations of subsequent recording sessions for more than 120 tracks that the harmonica cut during his short career. The author also takes a look at key sessions where Williamson provided backing for artists like Williams, Rachell, and Henry Townsend. There are also breakdowns of songs with tablature provided by the author, who learned how to play blues harmonica in order to better understand Williamson’s style. Two key parts of the research for the book were provided by Jim O’Neal, co-founder of Living Blues magazine and an early collaborator on the project. The unpublished interviews with T.W. Utley, Williamson’s half brother, and Fred Utley, his uncle, contain information that allows Inaba to go beyond the music in developing his portrayal. Included in the book are twelve pages of b&w photos, extensive notes, and a complete discography of all the tracks Williamson cut under his name…. If you have more than a passing interest in the blues harmonica legacy – or want to broaden your knowledge about one of the key innovators of the music – add this one to your reading list.
— Blues Blast Magazine
Mitsutoshi Inaba’s new biography of John Lee Williamson—the “first Sonny Boy”—is a must-have book not just for blues scholars, but for any serious student of the blues harmonica. Inaba has combined rich archival research and song-by-song analysis, including commentary by contemporary master Joe Filisko, into a vibrant portrait of the first star of the blues harp. I learned a lot from this study. Great work!
— Adam Gussow, blues harmonicist, University of Mississippi