Billy Boy Arnold | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Billy Boy Arnold


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As a youth in the late 40s, harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold sat briefly at the feet of John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, then turned his ear toward the likes of Junior Wells and Little Walter. He seemed destined for blues stardom: his tone was supple and powerful, and he combined the lessons he'd learned from masters like Williamson with a youthful hipness that allowed him to fit in with everyone from Howlin' Wolf to Bo Diddley. But for some reason--the vicissitudes of the recording industry, the blues bust that hit Chicago in the early 60s, his refusal to compromise his dignity or integrity for second-rate gigs--he never made the big time, though his reputation among aficionados eventually attained mythic proportions. This is his first major Chicago appearance in quite a while; if he's anything like he was a few years ago--when he sat in unexpectedly at a north-side club and silenced the crowd with his tone, his melodic imagination, and the bluesy sensitivity he poured into every note--it could mark the beginning of a major resurgence. Friday, B.L.U.E.S. Etcetera, 1124 W. Belmont; 525-8989.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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