John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson

Go To Discography | Biography | Chicago Blues | Blues Online© Home Page


Generally regarded as the original "Sonny Boy", John Lee Williamson was born in Jackson, Tennessee on March 30, 1914. He hoboed with Yank Rachell and John Estes through Tennessee and Arkansas in the late 1920's and early 1930's. He worked with Sunnyland Slim in Memphis in the early 1930's. John Lee Williamson moved to Chicago in 1934 where he worked Maxwell Street and as a sideman with numerous blues groups at the local clubs. His first recording, made in May of 1937 at the Leland Hotel in Aurora, Illinois for the Bluebird label, is also the first recording of Good Morning Little School Girl, which has become a much recorded blues classic tune. Bluebird recorded him until 1945 when Victor recorded him into 1947. Williamson worked frequently with Muddy Waters from 1943 and toured with Lazy Bill Lucas through the 1940's. He recorded with Big Joe Williams for the Columbia label in Chicago in 1947. In 1948 upon leaving the Plantation Club in Chicago after playing a gig, he was mugged and beaten. He died of a fractured skull and other injuries on June 1, 1948 and is buried in Jackson, Tennessee.

John Lee Williamson is regarded as "the first truly virtuosic blues harmonica player", "who brought the harmonica to prominence as a major blues instrument". He played a tremendous role in influencing the classic Chicago blues of the 1940's and 1950's. Among the artists he has influenced are Billy Boy Arnold, Shakey Jake Harris, Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, Dr. Ross, Junior Wells, and Johnny Young.


Besides the aforementioned Good Morning Little School Girl, some of John Lee Williamson's songs include Biscuit Baking Woman, Check Up On My Baby, Dealing With the Devil, Decoration Day (Blues), Deep Down In the Ground, Early In the Morning, Honey Bee Blues, Hoo-doo Man, Jiving the Blues, Low Down Ways, Mean Old Highway, Miss Stella Brown Blues, My Black Name Ringing, Shake the Boogie, Stop Breaking Down, Susie Q, Western Union Man, and Whiskey Headed Blues.

John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (harmonica) with:

1937 May, Aurora, Il. Good Morning Little School Girl.
1947 December 18, Chicago, Il. P Vine Blues; Bad And Weak Hearted Blues; King Biscuit Stomp; I'm A Highway Man; Banta Rooster Blues; Mean Step Father Blues; House Lady Blues; Don't You Leave Me Here.
Big Joe Williams (vocal, guitar); Ransom Knowling (bass); Judge Lawrence Riley (drums).

Go To Biography | Discography | Chicago Blues | Blues Online© Home Page

Blues Online© Copyright 1996 Joel M. Snow. All Rights Reserved.
Joel Snow
Created November 1, 1996
Revised December 26, 1996