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I can remember hearing Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson for the very first time as I was descending the stairs down in the cellar of Manchester’s Twisted Wheel Club in September 1963. For the first time, a moment of dark, dank pleasure mixed with that fantastic staccato beat : you gotta help me babe I can’t do it all by myself you gotta help me baby I can’t do it all by myself you know if you don’t help me darlin I’ll have to do it all by myself This was followed by one of the most haunting harmonica solos ever played. It was a track that still got played sometimes at the Wheel even as late as 1969 and certainly more often at the Blue Note. Picture taken from TV set, during Robert Palmer programme who found old archive material from Granada TV Sonny Boy Williamson was the second ‘Sonny Boy’ but he was old enough to have played with Robert Johnson – or was he? It was a great moment for me when I bought him a cup of coffee in the Twisted Wheel on Christmas Eve 1964 after he finished his set. He had the bowler hat and the Black and white Chequered suit (Chequer Records bought it for him, he told me). He showed me his smallest harmonica in the world, which he had just played in his nose but I didn’t take it from him for a close look! I remember a girl near the stage saying ‘he’s a dirty old man – playing his harmonica up his nose’ – not to everyone’s taste, then.
Sonny Boy Williamson @ The Twisted WheelHe appeared several times at the Twisted Wheel club in Manchester and it was Roger Eagle the DJ at the club who organised his appearance booking. Roger often played “Help Me” back to back with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightenin'” and they became coupled in my memories. Saturday February 15th December 26 Boxing Day 1964 SECOND APPERANCE (backed by Spencer Davis Group) My memories of that Christmas time night are noted in my book, and further details on our Manchester Soul site under LIVE ARTISTS APPEARING @ The Wheel 63 Our favourite songs were: HELP ME Your funeral and my Trial Fattening Frogs for the Snakes Bye Bye Bird All 45’s regularly played by Roger Eagle at the Wheel in 64/65. Sonny Boy appeared also at the Manchester Free Trade Hall and on Granada TV around the same period. The full interesting and funny story of it all is recounted in the book: SITE DOWN AND LISTEN TO THIS The Roger Eagle Story by Bill Sykes, but other than the Sonny Boy info the book misses out much of Rogers time at the Wheel & Blue Note clubs in Manchester (which I cover to some extent in mine). We owe a great deal to Roger Eagle who tutored us in appreciation of Black American Blues& Soul artists in the sixties…Alexis Korner was resident at the club (Twisted Wheel) he also informed us about American black blues artists as he did many covers of their songs (in a terrible gruff voice!) Extract from my book follows, my memories: (yes he really did play a tiny harp in his nose!). He had a bag full of harmonicas, from very tiny to large. He made sounds and bent notes so amazingly. After seeing him many of my pals tried to get (Honer/Marine- Band) harmonica to sound like that, we even bashed them with hammers to distort them, tried putting them in buckets of water for several weeks, but nothing really got that Sonny Boy sound… no where near. 1964 FIRST APPERANCE (backed by The Animals) From THE MANCHESTER WHEELERS: I remember one Christmas, Boxing Day in 1964, when I took out a girlfriend – her name was Janice, and she was from Higher Blackley in Manchester. We went to see Sonny Boy Williamson; ‘the second’. He was great. He was dressed in a bowler hat and in an amazing black and white tuxedo with tails, one side black the other white. I was praying he would play my favourite Blues number and he did; ‘Help Me’. He was backed by the Spencer Davis Group, and I remember the awe and respect he got from them, especially from Stevie Winwood. Sonny Boy played dozens of different harmonicas, he pulled them out of a bag he carried, some he played right inside his mouth and, to the disgust of my girl friend; he even played a tiny harmonica in his nose! She became a fan later though. Unbelievably, when he finished his set I got the opportunity to buy him a coffee. Later in the week, Sonny Boy appeared on Granada TV’s ‘Scene At Six Thirty’, a program that had the Beatles first TV appearance doing ‘Love Me Do’. This programme followed the six o’ clock news and they also had quite a few Soul artists – Marvin Gaye was on when the Motown Review Tour came to Manchester. They did a show in Chorlton at a railway station, which for Blues shows had been renamed: ‘Chorltonville’. It was used first as the venue for broadcasting Folk and Blues artists that appeared at the Free Trade Hall. It was Alexis Korner (and Blues Incorporated) that led the British Blues boom which later included the R&B boom, all supported by the Mod movement in the city. Quite a few Rockers liked this music too, as rock and roll originated from the same roots, and both warring sets of teenagers liked Chuck Berry. The Blues we heard wailing away at the Twisted Wheel generated a kind of mental feeling of weirdness. An undercurrent in Blues was about: all that Crossroads, meeting the Devil, black magic stuff. It was all related to the Blues; John the Conquer Root, black cat bones and Mojo hands of glory etc. It was all from the Mississippi Delta, a place of swamps and strange looking trees with vines falling from them, and misty fogs around them in odd-sounding towns like Savannah and New Orleans. One of the most atmospheric sounds in the Wheel, however, was from the Rolling Stones; a ‘B’ side – ‘Stoned’. Soon everyone in the place would be! During the week we would go down two or three times, and sometimes the place was almost empty. We would dance with ‘everyone’ in the club, maybe thirty or forty people, all practicing together new dances, all singing along to the Miracles, ‘A Love She Can Count On’, ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ and ‘Sugar and Spice’ and everything nice… ‘That’s what love is made of…’ Then ‘I’ve Got To Dance To Keep From Crying’. The DJ seemed to catch the mood playing several concatenated Miracles tracks. FEBRUARY 1964 Sat 15th Ian Crawford & Boomerangs -early session 7:30 – 11pm The Animals – All-nighter A five minute version of the song made initially famous by Bob Dylan got to the top of the UK and the USA charts: ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ . They rocked the place with ‘ Baby Let Me Take You Home’ , ‘Boom Boom’, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ Eric Burdon was now and again drinking from several Newcastle Brown Ales they had in a crate on the stage. They wore brown overalls. Don’t let me be misunderstood Gonna Send You Back to Walker I’m Crying It’s My Life Boom Boom Sonny Boy Williamson Later they brought on Sunny Boy Williamson and backed him on a few songs of course ‘ HELP ME’. Getting Out of Town Your funeral and my Trial Keep it to Yourself Fattening Frogs for the Snakes (with The Animals) Sun 16th The Beat Boys Fri 21st Lance Harvey & the Kingpins Sat 22nd The Mastersounds – Early Graham Bond Quartet – All-nighter Sun 23rd Country Gents Fri 28th The Redcaps Sat 29th Galaxies Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men All-nighter (ex Cyril Davis All Stars) Second appearance: DECEMBER 64 Sat 26th ~: Boxing Day :~ Sonny Boy Williamson Real Name Aleck Ford Miller or Rice Miller Sonny Boy Williamson (the second) was Born 5th December 1899 – Glendora, Mississippi Died 25th May 1965 – Helena, Arkansas. Wikipedia: Sonny Boy Williamson