Billy Boy Arnold
When Billy Boy Arnold makes his SPACE debut on August 10, it will be as the newest member of the Blues Hall of Fame, having received this well-deserved honor only weeks ago. And the Chicago blues harp master isn’t resting on his laurels, as the enthusiastic reviews for his new tribute CD to Big Bill Broonzy, Billy Boy Arnold Sings Big Bill Broonzy, demonstrate:
“Classic Chicago Blues done perfectly. Billy Boy Arnold sings and plays his heart out here, no doubt making his mentor proud. Pure delight!” – All Music Guide
“Billy Boy Arnold is one of the real treasures playing the blues.” – Blues Revue
“[A] marvelous and lovingly performed project.” – Living Blues
Born in Chicago, Billy Boy Arnold grew up listening to the records made by the Chicago-based blues giants of the 1930s and ‘40s: Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, and especially John Lee Williamson (“Sonny Boy No. 1”). In fact, Sonny Boy gave harmonica lessons to the 12-year old Billy Boy when the enterprising youngster knocked on his door. A few years later, after playing on the South Side streets with his friend Ellas McDaniel, Billy Boy suggested the phrase “Bo Diddley” as a catchy song lyric during McDaniel’s first recording session at Chess Records. McDaniel liked the phrase enough to adopt it for his professional identity, and his hits “Bo Diddley” and “I’m A Man” both feature Billy Boy on harmonica.
Soon after that, Billy Boy rose to prominence performing in the Chicago blues clubs, appearing with blues artists of the caliber of Little Walter and Junior Wells. He wrote and recorded a series of hit songs for Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records, including “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You.” Billy Boy’s stature rose to international levels in the 1960s and ‘70s when his hits were covered by chart-topping British rockers such as the Yardbirds, the Animals, and David Bowie.
As Big Bill Broonzy’s biographer, Bob Riesman, declares in the liner notes to Billy Boy’s new CD, “It’s hard to imagine anyone better equipped than Billy Boy Arnold to do a Big Bill Broonzy tribute CD.” Thanks to an introduction from blues pianist Blind John Davis, Billy Boy met and spoke with Big Bill on numerous occasions, and saw him perform in the 1950s in now-legendary Chicago blues clubs like Silvio’s. Billy Boy has been inspired by Big Bill’s music since his earliest awareness of the blues: in reflecting on “Key to the Highway,” the blues standard that Big Bill Broonzy co-wrote, Billy Boy says, “It was songs like that, when I was 5 or 6 years old, that made me want to be a blues singer.” With his new CD, Billy Boy Arnold demonstrates, in Riesman’s words, “that Big Bill’s music remains vibrant, dynamic, and a rich source of inspiration to the blues artists of the 21st century.”