Billy Boy Arnold | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Billy Boy Arnold




When people start toting up the masters of blues harmonica, Billy Boy Arnold's name doesn't come to the fore as quick as it should. A student of Sonny Boy Williamson, Arnold cut a series of records on Vee-Jay in the mid-50s that now rank as masterpieces; he also worked with figures ranging from Bo Diddley (that's Arnold's harp on "Bo Diddley" and "I'm a Man") to Earl Hooker and Howlin' Wolf. In 1984 his French release Ten Million Dollars (Blue Phoenix) reaffirmed his place in the international blues pantheon, but not until the 1993 album Back Where I Belong (Alligator) did his career really take off again. Rooted solidly in the postwar shuffle style, Arnold excels in a contemporary blues-rock setting as well as sparser traditionalist milieus, and working with Diddley helped to hone his sense of irony. His ballad style evokes both sensuality and aching loneliness, and on up-tempo numbers his harsh squall cuts far deeper--and pulls people onto the dance floor faster--than the multinote barrages of today's young pretenders. On his 1995 disc, Eldorado Cadillac (Alligator), Arnold takes on everything from the jump-blues chestnut "It Should Have Been Me" to high-octane numbers like "Slick Chick" and "Loving Mother for You," proving that even in the 90s a bluesman can rock the house without leaving his brains or his soul at home. He performs as part of a tribute to Junior Wells, with the Junior Wells Band. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa's, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Peter Amft.

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