Peter Green and the Sonny Boys, I & II Part II
Part I featured Green performing a song by the second Sonny Boy Williamson; Part II takes a look at his version of a rather obscure number by the original Sonny Boy, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson.
The second Sonny Boy Williamson first traveled to Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival in 1963 and stole the show. He returned the following year and made a number of recordings with British blues musicians, renewing interest in his extensive catalog.
The original Sonny Boy Williamson defined the sound of blues harmonica for a generation before his life was pointlessly taken at the age of thirty-four, during a street robbery.
He recorded prodigiously and his songs were covered by many of his contemporaries, but only his first recording, ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’ seemed to have caught the attention of Green’s generation.
I am not sure where Green would have first heard this second number, but the lascivious lyrics were certainly the hook for Green, as he had already recorded a number of originals in the style.
Williamson’s song was a variation on Bumble Bee Slim’s ‘Lemon Squeezing Blues’ recorded and released in 1935. Charlie Pickett recorded a close copy of Slim’s number as ‘Let Me Squeeze Your Lemon’ two years later.
Sonny Boy Williamson
John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson: vocal & harmonica /
Joe Williams: guitar / Yank Rachell: mandolin
Recorded March 13, 1938 – Leland Hotel, Aurora, IL
Release information not known
Until My Love Come Down (3:11)
Williamson’s tongue-tied vocal found the perfect accompaniment with Big Joe Williams on guitar and Yank Rachell on mandolin as the two create the aural equivalent of two men attempting to squeeze through a doorway at the same time, trying to keep up with Williamson who is hot on the trail of a young woman he is hoping to sweet-talk into a liaison.
By the second verse, everyone has found their place and Big Joe creates a wonderful tension as Sonny Boy becomes more insistent, explaining that it makes no difference what her Mama will or won’t allow.
The number rolls on steadily without a break, Sonny Boy wearing down the girl’s resistance and even playing the wounded innocent when she “lies” to him. The number ends with our “hero” satisfied on his way to the next town, the three playing in full cooperation, a jaunty hitch in their steps.
When Green’s cover version was released on the “Shrine ‘69” CD the label was apparently unaware of the song’s parentage and credited it to James Lane, guitarist Jimmy Rogers’ real name (he had released a cover of the song under the title ‘Lemon Squeezer’ in 1994).
Peter Green: guitar, harmonica & vocals /
Danny Kirwan: guitar / John McVie: bass /
Mick Fleetwood: drums
Recorded January 25, 1969 Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA
Available On: Shrine ’69 (Rykodisc 1999)
Lemon Squeezer (John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson) (5:29)
Fleetwood Mac simplify the backing and it is Green’s vocal and harmonica playing that carry the song. When playing numbers such as ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ or ‘Lazy Poker Blues’ Green would slip in a bit of profanity to heighten the excitement, but on this number, he knows there is no need.
He has the confidence to allow his vocal to carry the number, singing the verses a cappella with the band coming in during the verses.
The audience, like the band, all seem to be holding their breath as Green sings the song; Spencer breaks the tension after the third verse with a shout of “Have mercy!”
Green’s harmonica break shows how far he had come from the recording at the Marquee Club a year and a half earlier.
Coming out of the break, the absolute joy in Green’s voice is so infectious that Spencer now joins in on piano.
Green dropped Williamson’s second verse, but not wanting the fun to end, he reprises the first and throws in another chorus before adding one of his own, a none too subtle verse about “riding” his woman on the bed and on the floor; one that he most likely would not have been allowed to sing on record while with Blue Horizon.
He concludes with a wonderful outro, getting a much fuller tone on the harmonica than he had achieved on the earlier number.
The number is simply a tour de force for Green and the band and to me, a fitting way to say “Happy Birthday” to Peter Green and wish him many, many more.