Little Sonny (real name Aaron Willis) is an Alabama born blues harmonica player not surprisingly often confused with Sonny Boy Williamson (the Chess Records harmonica player) because of his chosen instrument and his nickname. Little Sonny is less well known than his more famous mentor from Tennessee, but nonetheless produced some great records that deserve your attention – especially if you like your Blues with a Funky feel.
Just approaching his Forties, Willis started a trio of albums for Stax and its subsidiary label Enterprise in the early Seventies. “New King Of Blues Harmonica” came first in 1970 with “Hard Goin’ Up” being number three in 1973 (it charted Stateside). “Black & Blue” is the one in the middle – released in 1972 on Enterprise ENS 1018 in the USA – and then remastered and reissued onto this now rare US-only CD in 1992.
His backup band for the album was TOMMY WILLIAMS on Tenor And Baritone Saxophones, RON GORDEN on Organ, BOBBY MANUEL and EDDIE WALLIS on Guitars with WILLIAM HALL on Drums. The Horns were arranged and played by THE BAR-KAYS and production handled by ZORN PRODUCTIONS and AL BELL (Tracks 3, 4, 7 and 9). The tapes were remastered by PHIL DE LANCIE at the Fantasy Studios in the USA and the sound quality is great – full, clear and with muscle where it’s needed. There’s no compression and virtually no hiss.
Stax SCD-8575-2 breaks down as follows (37:35 minutes):
1. Hung Up [Little Sonny writer]
2. Sonny's Fever (Instrumental) [Little Sonny writer]
3. You Got A Good Thing [Bettye Crutcher/Bobby Manuel writers]
4. A Woman Named Trouble [Bettye Crutcher/Bobby Manuel writers]
5. Honest I Do [Jimmy Reed cover]
6. Wade In The Water (Instrumental) [Traditional Song cover]
1. Paying Through The Nose [Bettye Crutcher/Bobby Manuel writers]
2. Memphis B-K (Instrumental) [Little Sonny writer]
3. Where Women Got Meat On Their Bones [Bettye Crutcher/Bobby Manuel writers]
4. I Found Love [Arzel Hill writer]
5. They Want Money [Little Sonny writer]
Musically “Black & Blue” in the vein of Albert King blues except that a harmonica and brass are to the fore rather than a guitar – and more Funk-Soul than Blues. Gems include the funky and irresistible opener “Hung Up” and the ABC-Dunhill Bobby Bland 1970-‘s feel of “You Got A Good Thing” which was issued as a 45 on Enterprise ENA-9034 in 1971 in the States with “A Woman Named Trouble” as its B-side.
As you can see from the track list above, there are 3 instrumentals – each of them has been huge on the dancefloor circuit of the UK. “Wade In The Water” is faster and funkier than the Ramsey Lewis Trio and Marlena Shaw versions of 1966 and not surprisingly has become a Mod favourite – turning up on those cool Ace/Kent CD compilations and BGP LP releases (Beats Goes Public). The hand-clapping harmonica funk of “Memphis B-K” has graced Luv N’ Haight compilations – a sure sign of quality – and on top of all this is one of the great unsung lady-heroes of Soul and Funk – BETTYE CRUTCHER – whose song-writing has made many a Stax platter shine with wit and talent (the lyrics to “Where Women Got Meat On Their Bones” title this review).
So there you have it, a cool little album that’s short but oh so sweet. And although it’s rare and may cost – it’s absolutely worth you seeking out – especially given the quality of the tunes and the fab remastered sound…