Join for a conversation between Billy Boy Arnold and Bob Riesman about Big Bill Broonzy and the Chicago blues world of the 1940s and 1950s, followed by a performance of Big Bill’s songs by Billy Boy Arnold.
Eric Noden, producer and guitarist for the Billy Boy Arnold Sings Big Bill Broonzy CD, will accompany Arnold on guitar.
Guitarist, singer, songwriter and author Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958) was a mentor to Muddy Waters and an enduring inspiration for a set of British musicians who transformed popular music in the 1960s, including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ray Davies. Big Bill’s trailblazing European tours in the 1950s played a crucial role in creating an international audience for the blues. As he worked with Pete Seeger, Studs Terkel and Alan Lomax to lay the groundwork for the folk music revival of the 1960s, Broonzy used his writings and song lyrics to speak out against racial injustice. Bob Riesman spent a decade researching and writing his biography of Big Bill Broonzy, I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy, which chronicles Broonzy’s remarkable life and career. In his introduction to the book, Pete Townshend wrote, “Back before it all caught fire, we heard Big Bill and we knew that music could tell the truth as well as entertain.”
Chicago blues harp master Billy Boy Arnold is one of the last of the postwar-era Chicago blues artists still touring and recording regularly. Arnold, who was inducted in Spring 2012 into the Blues Hall of Fame, grew up listening to Big Bill Broonzy’s records. On his new CD, Billy Boy Arnold Sings Big Bill Broonzy, Arnold pays tribute to the bluesman whom he later met and saw perform in Chicago’s legendary blues clubs. Blues Revue has written that “Billy Boy Arnold is one of the real treasures playing the blues,” while Living Blues has praised the CD as a “marvelous and lovingly performed project” and Down Beat described it as “a gem.” This will be Arnold’s first New York City appearance since the release of the Big Bill Broonzy tribute CD.
Billy Boy Arnold was born in Chicago and took lessons as a 12-year old from John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. 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, Billy Boy came 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. Arnold performed this summer at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and will be touring in Europe later this fall.
Bob Riesman is co-editor of Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage. He produced and co-wrote the television documentary American Roots Music: Chicago and was a contributor to Routledge’s Encyclopedia of the Blues. He is the author of I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy.
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