Caption: One of the most influential Blues musicians of all time, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson.
One of the most influential Blues musicians of all time, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. 

Blues Unlimited #167 - A Great Day in Aurora, Illinois

From: Steve Franz
Series: Blues Unlimited
Length: 01:59:01

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On May 5th, 1937, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and Robert Nighthawk made their recording debuts. Accompanied in the studio by Big Joe Williams, the recordings these three men made that day helped shape the future of Chicago Blues as we know it.

Sonnyboywilliamson_small Over the course of two days, Tuesday May 4th and Wednesday May 5th, 1937, the Bluebird Record label arranged for extensive recording sessions with some of their current artists, as well as a few new faces, in the Leland Hotel at Aurora, Illinois (just to the west of Chicago). While some familiar names recorded the first day, Tuesday May 4th (Tampa Red, Washboard Sam, The State Street Swingers), a couple of new ones recorded as well -- Merline Johnson (also known as the "Yas Yas Girl") and Charley West, along with John D. Twitty -- the last two being fairly obscure figures who made just a handful of titles.

For the sessions the following day, five bluesmen drove up from Saint Louis in a 1930 Model A Ford. Veteran musicians Walter Davis, Big Joe Williams, and Henry Townsend were among those coming back into the recording studio, and along with them came Robert Nighthawk (he was known as Robert Lee McCoy in the pre-war days) and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. The latter two were making their debuts as vocalists, courtesy of Walter Davis, who in addition to being a popular Bluebird recording artist, also worked part time as a talent scout. No one could've imagined, at the time, a more propitious recording debut.

Teaming up in the studio with Big Joe Williams, the music that Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson made together was not only a harbinger of the small combo trio format that would gain popularity in the early days of post-war Chicago Blues, Nighthawk would go on to influence virtually every slide guitar player that ever worked in the Windy City. As for Sonny Boy Williamson, his musical legacy is something that Blues musicians still draw upon to this very day, not only in terms of his influential harmonica playing, but his incredibly rich catalog of songs. It's almost impossible to think of a Blues artist who hasn't, at some point in their career, performed or recorded a cover version of one of his songs.

As for the title of this program, we've "borrowed" the phrase from the famous photograph, "A Great Day in Harlem." Certainly, Wednesday May 5th, 1937, was a great day in Aurora, Illinois, as two important and influential Blues musicians got their start, changing the course of Blues history as we know it.

Piece Description

Over the course of two days, Tuesday May 4th and Wednesday May 5th, 1937, the Bluebird Record label arranged for extensive recording sessions with some of their current artists, as well as a few new faces, in the Leland Hotel at Aurora, Illinois (just to the west of Chicago). While some familiar names recorded the first day, Tuesday May 4th (Tampa Red, Washboard Sam, The State Street Swingers), a couple of new ones recorded as well -- Merline Johnson (also known as the "Yas Yas Girl") and Charley West, along with John D. Twitty -- the last two being fairly obscure figures who made just a handful of titles.

For the sessions the following day, five bluesmen drove up from Saint Louis in a 1930 Model A Ford. Veteran musicians Walter Davis, Big Joe Williams, and Henry Townsend were among those coming back into the recording studio, and along with them came Robert Nighthawk (he was known as Robert Lee McCoy in the pre-war days) and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. The latter two were making their debuts as vocalists, courtesy of Walter Davis, who in addition to being a popular Bluebird recording artist, also worked part time as a talent scout. No one could've imagined, at the time, a more propitious recording debut.

Teaming up in the studio with Big Joe Williams, the music that Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson made together was not only a harbinger of the small combo trio format that would gain popularity in the early days of post-war Chicago Blues, Nighthawk would go on to influence virtually every slide guitar player that ever worked in the Windy City. As for Sonny Boy Williamson, his musical legacy is something that Blues musicians still draw upon to this very day, not only in terms of his influential harmonica playing, but his incredibly rich catalog of songs. It's almost impossible to think of a Blues artist who hasn't, at some point in their career, performed or recorded a cover version of one of his songs.

As for the title of this program, we've "borrowed" the phrase from the famous photograph, "A Great Day in Harlem." Certainly, Wednesday May 5th, 1937, was a great day in Aurora, Illinois, as two important and influential Blues musicians got their start, changing the course of Blues history as we know it.

Timing and Cues

Hour 1: 00:00 - 58:31
In Cue: "Welcome to Blues Unlimited..."
Out Cue (at 57:31): "...coming up right after this break."

Break (60 second music bed): 57:31 - 58:31

Hour 2: 58:31 - 1:58:59
In Cue: "Welcome back to the show..."
Out Cue (at 1:55:54): "...next time, right here on Blues Unlimited."

Note: from 1:55:54 to 1:58:59, a song by John D. Twitty, "Camp Meeting In The Air," closes the show.

Musical Works

Title Artist Album Label Year Length
Good Morning School Girl John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson When The Sun Goes Down Vol 3 - That's Chicago's South Side. RCA/Bluebird 1937 03:02
The Big Boat Washboard Sam Complete Recorded Works Vol 2 1937-1938. Document 1937 03:04
Easy Ridin' Mama Washboard Sam Swinging The Blues 1935-1947. Frémeaux & Associés 1937 03:16
John D. Blues John D. Twitty Rare 1930s Blues (1934-1937). Document 1937 03:27
He Roars Like A Lion Merline Johnson When The Sun Goes Down Vol 3 - That's Chicago's South Side. RCA/Bluebird 1937 03:25
Prowling Night Hawk Robert Lee McCoy aka Robert Nighthawk The Bluebird Recordings 1937-1938. RCA/Bluebird 1937 03:05
Good Gal Walter Davis Complete Recorded Works Vol 3 1937-1938. Document 1937 02:33
We Gonna Move Washboard Sam Complete Recorded Works Vol 2 1937-1938. Document 1937 03:11
My Gal Is Gone Tampa Red The Bluebird Recordngs 1936-1938. RCA/Bluebird 1937 03:14
When The One You Love Is Gone Tampa Red The Bluebird Recordings 1936-1938. RCA/Bluebird 1937 03:06
Got The Bottle Up And Gone John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson When The Sun Goes Down Vol 8 - Bluebird Blues. RCA/Bluebird 1937 02:38
Fifth Avenue Walter Davis Complete Recorded Works Vol 2 1935-1937. Document 1937 03:21
I Know You Gonna Miss Me Big Joe Williams Complete Recorded Works Vol 1 1935-1941. Document 1937 03:04
Brother James Big Joe Williams Throw A Boogie Woogie. RCA/Bluebird 1937 02:53
I'm Leavin' You Merline Johnson The Yas Yas Girl - Complete Recorded Works Vol 1. Document 1937 03:11
My Baby Left Me Merline Johnson The Yas Yas Girl - Complete Recorded Works Vol 1. Document 1937 03:03
Rollin' Stone Blues Charley West Rare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol 3 (1937-1948). Document 1937 03:07
Ethel May Charley West Rare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol 3 (1937-1948). Document 1937 03:08
Don't Mistreat Your Woman Robert Lee McCoy aka Robert Nighthawk The Bluebird Recordings 1937-1938. RCA/Bluebird 1937 02:32
I Drink Good Whiskey Washboard Sam Complete Recorded Works Vol 2 1937-1938. Document 1937 03:19
Angel Child Walter Davis Complete Recorded Works Vol 2 1935-1937. Document 1937 03:20
West Coast Blues Walter Davis Complete Recorded Works Vol 2 1935-1937. Document 1937 03:25
Rootin' Ground Hog Big Joe Williams Throw A Boogie Woogie. RCA/Bluebird 1937 02:57
I Won't Be In Hard Luck No More Big Joe Williams Complete Recorded Works Vol 1 1935-1941. Document 1937 02:39
G Man Robert Lee McCoy aka Robert Nighthawk Lake Michigan Blues 1934-1941. Nighthawk 1937 02:35
Sweet Pepper Mama Robert Lee McCoy aka Robert Nighthawk Lake Michigan Blues 1934-1941. Nighthawk 1937 02:43
Mean Mistreatin' Daddy Merline Johnson The Yas Yas Girl - Complete Recorded Works Vol 1. Document 1937 02:58
Blue Bird Blues John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson When The Sun Goes Down Vol 8 - Bluebird Blues. RCA/Bluebird 1937 03:07
Jackson Blues John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson Lake Michigan Blues 1934-1941. Nighthawk 1937 02:55
Hobo Blues Charley West Rare 1930s & '40s Blues Vol 3 (1937-1948). Document 1937 03:01
Stingaree Man State Street Swingers State Street Swingers 1936-1937. RST 1937 03:18
I Vouch For My Man State Street Swingers State Street Swingers 1936-1937. RST 1937 03:03
Camp Meeting In The Air John D. Twitty Rare 1930s Blues (1934-1937). Document 1937 03:05

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