By Stephen Pate – On the CD The Legendary Broadcasts 1969-1984, “Don’t Start Me Talkin‘” is a cover by Bob Dylan of the famous Sonny Boy Williamson II song.
“Don’t Start Me Talkin‘” by Sonny Boy Williamson II
The only non-Dylan song on the CD is a cover of “Don’t Start Me Talkin‘” by Sonny Boy Williamson II. With a little imagination you can hear another Dylan song in this performance. It sure sounds more Dylan than Sonny Boy Williamson.
Sonny Boy Williamson’s story
Sonny Boy Williamson II or “Rice Miller” is an almost forgotten blues harmonica player, songwriter and singer who died in 1965. Sonny Boy was one of the most influential blues harp players. He recorded prolifically on the Trumpet label in Mississippi. Later he moved to Checker Records, a subsidiary of Chess when Trumpet went bankrupt.
Chess kept Sonny Boy off the Chess label to save the limelight for Little Walter who was in the Chess house band and a Chess star. Sonny Boy had a sweeter harp style than Little Walter. He was definitely less trouble than Little Walter’s drinking and rowdyism.
Sonny Boy had a long career starting in the Mississippi delta. He was rumored to have played with blues legend Robert Johnson. In Chicago he played with the 50’s blues greats at Chess Records. Later he worked in England with the British rockers like The Animals and Eric Clapton in the early 1960’s.
In The Last Waltz movie there is a scene with The Band where Levon Helm describes meeting Sonny Boy Williamson in 1965. It was just before Sonny Boy’s death at a juke joint in Helena Arkansas.
Dylan’s carried on the tradition of disguised history favored by blues artists like Sonny Boy Williamson. When was he born? What’s his real name? Sonny Boy created a mythological past he considered more interesting than bare facts. See His Best-kept Secret
Sonny Boy Williamson’s harp style
Sonny Boy’s style was a mixture of delta and Chicago blues. He made the harmonica sound like a blues vocalist with whoops and hollers, plaintive melodic lines and the pain of the blues coming through.
During the 1950’s he was very popular on the Chicago blues scene along with Howlin’ Wolf, his brother-in-law, and competitor Little Walter.
The British blues scene took to Sonny Boy and he became a popular attraction in the UK in the 60s. He recorded one album with The Yardbirds which is a favorite of mine, and another with The Animals, The Animals with Sonny Boy Williamson.
The Yardbirds recording Sonny Boy Williamson & the Yardbirds with the young Eric Clapton. The Yardbirds played a rave up style of blues. They had a lot to learn about blues and getting the groove. At the start of one take, Sonny Boy stops the song, corrects their rushed intro and counts them in again since they were off the beat. It’s a classic moment.
It is somewhat ironic for Dylan to play a Sonny Boy Williamson II song since Dylan’s harp style is a sharp contrast to the blues style that was popularized by Sonny Boy. When Dylan arrived on the scene his idiosyncratic harp style got criticized for being awkward and primitive by the more advanced blues harp players.
Chess Records has a great Sonny Boy Williamson CD with called Sonny Boy Williamson His Best with 20 songs for $4.99.
You may find 20 songs by the same blues artist tiring so another choice is the Chess Blues Classics ’47-’56 which includes “Don’t Start Me Talking” and 15 other great tracks by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker and other Chess artists.
I had the Yardbirds / Sonny Boy Williamson CD but lost it to a friend. I still have the “The Best…” and “Chess Blues Classics…” both of which I enjoy a lot.
The UK release of The Legendary Broadcasts 1969-1984 goes beyond what I expected at this price point. The sound is an improvement over the bootlegs and YouTube videos already available. The CD is a joy to listen to.
The CD label is a 1/4″ audio tape facsimile like the artwork on official Bootlegs from Columbia Legacy and includes an informative 8 page booklet that accurately describes the contents.
All that comes in a paper board sleeve with the same artwork that will protect the CD. Nicely done.