Billy Boy Arnold: Decoration Day


Decoration Day


Billy Boy Arnold (harmonica, vocals, guitar)


Billy Boy Sings Sonny Boy (Electro-Fi 3405)

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Billy Boy Arnold (harmonica, vocals, guitar),

Billy Flynn (guitar), Bob Stroger (bass), Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith (drums)


Composed by John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson


Recorded: No information given (CD released in 2008)


Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Billy Boy Arnold has called it "the most important day in my entire life." Over 60 years ago, after leaving a movie matinee, he treks from his home on the South Side of Chicago to 3226 Giles Street, and knocks on the door of blues harmonica legend Sonny Boy Williamson. Williamson would soon be dead, a victim of a mugging at age 34 in 1948, and had his posthumous reputation confused by a usurper who took his name; but on that day he generously spent time with the visiting youngster, demonstrating his harmonica effects and how he made his humble mouth organ say wah, wah, wah.

Decades have passed and now Billy Boy Arnold returns the favor on a CD devoted to songs by Sonny Boy Williamson. Here he takes the melancholy "Decoration Day," and turns it from doleful to soulful with lots of wah, wah, wah along the way. Sonny Boy's nice and kind woman "died and left him," and he needs to fulfill his promise to bring her some flowers on every Decoration Day. Hey kitties, you know it's a heavy dues song when it opens at the side of a deathbed and goes downhill from there. But Billy Boy translates his mourning into some serious wailing on the harmonica, and the whole band is magical throughout this track. There are so many tribute albums floating around these days, and most of them come across as contrived and shallow. But Billy Boy Sings Sonny Boy is the real deal, one master celebrating the artistry of another with unfeigned passion. A real treat for blues fans.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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