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Sonny Boy Williamson II

Sonny Boy Williamson II was born in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. His birth name was Alex or Aleck Ford, though his surname would change to Miller, after his stepfather. His birth date is disputed, he claimed he was born on December 5, 1899, though scholars claim that he was born in 1912 according to census records and his gravestone states his birth date was March 11, 1908. He lived and worked with his sharecropper stepfather Jim Miller and his mother Millie Ford till the early 1930s. In the 1930s, he traveled around Mississippi and Arkansas and he would meet Big Joe Williams, Elmore James, Robert Johnson and Robert Lockwood, Jr. Miller would develop his style during the period, being known as "Rice" Miller (a childhood nickname stemming from his love of rice and milk) or as Little Boy Blue. One of his tricks was to insert one end of the harmonica into his mouth and playing with no hands.
In 1941 Miller and Robert Lockwood were hired to play the King Biscuit Time show on radio station KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. Max Moore the program's sponsor, began billing Miller as Sonny Boy Williamson. The move was seen as a marketing ploy, as John Lee Williamson had been very successful using the artist name Sonny Boy Williamson to record since 1937. Miller would later claim he was the first to use the name. Some scholars believe that the confusion over his birth date may be due to Miller wanting to prove he was old enough to have had the name first.
In 1949 he moved West Memphis, Arkansas, to live with his sister and her husband, Howlin' Wolf. He started his own KWEM radio show from 1948 to 1950, selling the elixir Hadacol. Elmore James, Houston Stackhouse, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Robert Nighthawk and others from his King Biscuit show came to West Memphis to perform on the show.
In 1951 he recorded his first recording for Trumpet Records, three years after the death of Sonny Boy Williamson I.
In 1955 Trumpet Records went bust and Williamson's contract was sold to Chess Records in Chicago. Also in 1955 he released a single, "Boppin' with Sonny" b/w "No Nights by Myself", with Ace Records. He had already developed a Chicago following having appeared in Elmore James's band from 1953. He had his best success whilst he was at Chess. From 1955 to 1964 he recorded about 70 songs for the Chess subsidiary Checker Records.
In 1959 his first LP, "Down and Out Blues" was released by Checker.
In the early sixties he toured Europe several times. He was backed several times by the Authentics, would record with the Yardbirds for the album "Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds", record with The Animals, and appeared on several TV broadcasts.
In 1963 he appeared credited as "Big Skol" on Roland Kirk's live album "Kirk in Copenhagen".
He returned to America and appeared again on the King Biscuit Time show on KFFA, whilst performing in the Helena, Arkansas area.
On May 25, 1965, Houston Stackhouse and Peck Curtis were waiting at the KFFA studios for Williamson, with the 12.15 broadcast time approaching. Peck left the radio station to locate Williamson, and discovered him dead of an apparent heart attack suffered in his sleep.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
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