Sonny Boy's Role in Delta Blues History
Sonny Boy Williamson's music legacy (his intimate involvement in the early history of Rock 'n' Roll and Rhythm and Blues from the '20s to the '50s and '60s America and early 60's England) and the Mississippi delta environment from which he remained tied all his life speak volumes about the political and social climate in which we live today.
His mysterious life story, the under-appreciated significance of Helena Arkansas radio station KFFA's "King Biscuit Time" which featured him and the rich history of the Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana delta are very much relevant to Today's history.
King Buiscuit Time Bluesmen
Conway Twitty, Ronnie Hawkins, The Band’s Levon Helm and more important bluesmen than you can count were born or grew up within a 50-75 mile radius of King Biscuit Time’s that broadcast to roughly 10% of the nation’s African-American (then, Black) population in 1941 when KBT premiered. Mid-day “dinner” (the break between the two eight-hour shifts Black farm workers were expected to work) meant listening to King Biscuit Time and, for the first time, many church-going Blacks and music-loving Whites heard a proud man hold his head high and play music that touched their soul. Sonny Boy became the first Black media star of the South. His music literally gave “Eyesight To The Blind” (“Black is Beautiful” in the 1940s). More importantly for Sonny Boy it made money for their sponsor, King Biscuit flour and later Sonny Boy Corn Meal and the irascible Sonny Boy had the run of the delta — his sponsor would almost always get him out of jail to do the show and he could advertise his appearances free
Blues Industry Pioneers
RECORD COMPANIES AND PIONEER RADIO STATIONS
◾ Alligator Records have released three Sonny Boy compilations: Clownin’ With The World, Goin’ In Your Direction and Keep It To Ourselves. Their website includes a brief Sonny Boy biography and Marc Ryan’s wonderful original liner notes for the above albums.
◾ Arhoolie Records issued King Biscuit Time, a compilation of Sonny Boy’s best Trumpet Records recordings.
◾ Chess Records. Most of Sonny Boy’s best-known recordings were issued by Chess and Checker, currently owned by MCA. The majority of Sonny Boy’s original Chess albums are still available, although The MCA “His Best” and “Essential” compilations are recommended as first choices because there is a lot more music per dollar.
◾ KWEM Radio in West Memphis Arkansas is where Elvis Presley,Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf and others got their first radio exposure (including B.B.King on Sonny Boy's Hadacol show). Future members of The Band such as drummer Levon Helm of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas grew up listening to this type of music. The Band was formed in Toronto Canada (originally as Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks) with Levon Helm and four Canadians from the area (Robbie Robertson, Richard Manual, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko). The Band was heard on KFFA in Helena Arkansas.