The biography of Sonny Boy Williamson is something of an enigma, even to ardent blues fans. Indeed, he isn’t even the 'real' Williamson; a shrewd businessman simply gave singer-mouth harpist Aleck 'Rice' Miller the name after the 1948 murder of popular blues artist John Lee Williamson. Still, Miller/Williamson’s remarkable career literally bridged Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton, both his music and life embodying a free-wheeling, hard-living lifestyle that became something of a rock and blues cliché. After considerable local radio success in the Delta, Miller/Williamson ended up at Chicago’s Chess Records in the mid-1950s, where all but one of these tracks originated in the early ‘60s. But by the time Chess originally issued this ill-timed collection (belatedly compiled to cash in on a waning ‘60s folk boom), Williamson was six months dead.
Listen and it’s not hard to hear why a generation or two of blues-smitten rockers held him especially dear, be it the Allman Brothers (the original "One Way Out", with longtime partner Robert Lockwood Jr. supplying the familiar guitar licks) or Led Zeppelin (a lugubrious, boogied-up take of Willie Dixon’s "Bring It On Home"). Punctuated by harp blasts that could turn from sharply staccato to lyrically wrenching, Williamson’s leathery voice muses over his being "Too Young To Die" or "Too Old To Think" with the self-deprecating indifference that became a trademark. Though these tracks are the cream of his last years, they’re more boozy celebration than elegy.