Sonny Boy Williamson I Lecture by Adam Gussow

John Lee Sonny Boy Williamson, the “Sony Boy Williamson” who is also referred to as Sonny Boy Williamson I, was from Jackson Tenessee. He moved to Chicago where he recorded from 1937-1947 (died by stabbing at age 37)

I grew up listening to songs like One Way Out, Help Me, and Bring it on Home, by a Sonny Boy Williamson, whom I only later learned was actually Sonny Boy Williamson II, aka Rice Miller, who, though he was actively playing in the 30’s and 40’s, his recording career didn’t start until 1951 and spanned to 1965. His career was also bolstered by working the British groups The Yardbirds and The Animals.

He is kinda the godfather of modern blues harmonica from the perspective that he was the main influence on many of whom we consider to be the progenitors of the modern blues harmonica:

  • Big Walter
  • Little Walter
  • Sonny Boy Williamson II
  • Junior Wells.

His style was very percussive, exclusively utilizing tongue blocking, and especially lots of slaps, and though it may sound simple, it’s deceptively difficult to emulate well. His most famous song is Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, check out a few minutes starting here. in which are dropped many great nuggets of wisdom about tone and technique here. Adam plays the original recording by Sonny Boy Williamson I, and then shows how he learned the style from Nat Riddles, and this is a great example of how splits increase blues horsepower, and combining with slaps and vibrato to really make it magical.

Here’s links to the 4 songs that Adam Gussow mentions were the most influential on him personally:

Good morning little school girl
Sloppy Drunk Blues
Wonderful time
Sugar Mama

If you wanna learn to play in the style of Sonny Boy Williamson I, I highly recommend checking out Joe Filisko’s study song Twisted Tongue Swing.


Thanks Luke, this is an awesome video. It’s always a treat listening to Adam discuss technique. I may not be able to do what he’s talking about, or sometimes even understand it all, but his love of the music radiates off him.