The first time I ever heard of Sonny Boy Williamson, I believe, was when I was thirteen or fourteen, while reading a book called Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga. (Hey, I said I was thirteen! You gotta cut me some slack here.) Williamson was an old bluesman from Mississippi who was idolized by the young blues-influenced rock bands in London in the early 1960s: the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals, the Who, and so on. When Williamson found out about this groundswell of interest in his work, he headed over to Europe and especially to London, where he spent a lot of time over the next few years. He even recorded live sets with both the Yardbirds and the Animals. (The Yardbirds one is pretty great; the Animals, meh.)
But the story that stuck with me most was an account of one night where Williamson nearly burned down a hotel. Here’s Robert Plant’s version of the story (which I found online, since I don’t happen to have a copy of Hammer of the Gods ready to hand here in Wales):
He always liked to eat some rabbit after a gig. One time in a Birmingham hotel, the only thing he could find in which to cook up his rabbit was a coffee percolator. So he put it in, turned it on and promptly fell asleep. The rabbit cooked and cooked and cooked. In the end, they had to evacuate the entire floor of the hotel and Sonny Boy was asleep, still snoring away.
So the moral of today’s post… When you’re in London, if you feel an overwhelming urge to cook a rabbit in a coffee percolator late one night, please, for the love of God, stay the hell awake.
Here’s a great blues track called “I’m Trying to Make London My Home,” recorded live in 1964. Just ignore the weird graphic-in-lieu-of-video.
And my warmest thanks go out to David Galbraith for suggesting this track. Cheers!