This Day in Music, May 25: Legendary Bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson

It would be difficult to calculate the level of influence blues great Sonny Boy Williamson has had on rock and roll.

By , Contributor

On this day in 1965, blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, Sonny Boy Williamson II died in his sleep.

By the time of his death his career had seen him play with the legendary Robert Johnson and Elmore James as well as British blues enthusiasts Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.

In between, he drank a lot of whiskey, told tall tales and enjoyed success hosting his own radio show for over 15 years.

The music of Sonny Boy was a huge influence on a diverse range of major acts, with Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, The Who, The Animals, Yardbirds, Aerosmith, Muddy Waters and Moody Blues all covering his songs. Without Sonny Boy, there would be no Rolling Stones. Two young men from Kent called Mick and Keith, obsessed with the blues, would study, learn and listen to all the American blues records they could lay their hands on. They went on to form a band called Little Boy Blue and The Blue Boys in 1962 which, after meeting harmonica virtuoso and slide guitarist Brian Jones, would develop into The Rolling Stones.

Sonny Boy started his own KWEM radio show in the late '40s and would invite other blues artists to perform, jamming on air with him. Later during his Chess Records years, he enjoyed his greatest success and acclaim, recording over 70 songs for Chess subsidiary Checker Records from 1955 to 1964.

He enjoyed touring Europe, and during the height of the British blues craze he recorded with both The Yardbirds and The Animals. During this time he wore a two-tone suit tailored personally for him, along with a bowler hat, matching umbrella, and an attaché case for his harmonicas (that is cool).

According to the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods, while touring the UK in the '60s, Sonny Boy set his hotel room on fire while trying to cook a rabbit in a coffee percolator! And during this tour he allegedly stabbed a man during a street fight and was forced to leave the country abruptly.

On this day in 1965, the 12:15 broadcast time for his show was closing in and Sonny Boy was nowhere in sight. His body was discovered in bed at the rooming house where he had been staying, dead of an apparent heart attack suffered in his sleep the night before.

When I'm Dead and Gone

On this day in 1997 a new report showed that Elvis Presley was now the world's bestselling posthumous entertainer with worldwide sales of over one billion, over 480 active fan clubs (including a group of parachuting Elvis impersonators called the "Flying Elvi"), and an estimated 250,000 UK fans who were still buying his records. Ironically Presley had died owing $3 million (£1.76 million).

Did you know? Elvis was a big Monty Python fan. His favourite film was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was in his video recorder when he died.

Anyway, in 2009 Forbes magazine reported that Michael Jackson had earned about 72 million dollars since his death on June 6. That was good enough for third place on their list of dead celebrities making the most money. Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent came in first at $350 million, songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were second with $235 million and Elvis Presley was fourth, earning $55 million. Brings a new meaning to "Three Steps To Heaven".

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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