Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Harpists - Sonny Boy Cotton & Butterfield

I guess you can say that Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Flower Show on the AM radio out of Helina, Arkansas was one of the earliest roots of rock & roll.

Both Levon Helm and James Cotton mentioned the influence that show had on them and others who would take up the beat and continue it today.

I caught Cotton many times over the years, but the first time was the best, as I went to the show with Billy Mueller, the lead guitarist with Backroads and collector of Les Pauls.

It was at the now defunct Bijou Cafe in Philadelphia, and after his first set, while the Persuasions were singing downstairs, me and Billy went up to Cotton's dressing room and knocked on the door. He was glad to see us and we went in and sat with him for about a half hour and I tape recorded the interview in which he recalled how he heard Sonny Boy on the radio and went to see him when he was a teenager.

Cotton said that after he figured out how to play the harp like Sonny Boy he went to the radio station and knocked on the door. Sonny let him in and when it was time to do the commercial, Sonny Boy let Cotton play the theme song on the air, his first live performance.

"Hell," Cotton said, "I'll play it for you right now, the first time I done it since then," and he slapped his knee and played some notes on the harp and then sang, "I got King Biscuit on my table," and played some more, and then sang, "I got King Biscuit on my table..."

I have that old cassette tape around here someplace.

Then someone came up and told Cotton something and he said, "I'll be with him in a minute."

Billy Mueller then asked Cotton a few questions, and one of them was, "What ever happened to Hubert Sumlin?"

Billy looked at me and said, "That's Howlin' Wolf's old guitarist," he explained.

Cotton smiled and said, "Well I just learned he's outside that door right now wantin' to say hello," and he let Hubert in.

Dressed in a tight suit and tie, Hubert was all smiles and explained that he was then living in Philadelphia and still playing.

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