Billy Boy Arnold
Billy Boy Arnold is back. With his 1992 Alligator Records debut, BACK WHERE I BELONG (AL 4815), Arnold firmly reestablished himself as one of the foremost practitioners of classic Chicago blues. His wailing harmonica playing and soulful vocals are a perfect match for his streetwise songwriting. The combination of Delta-influenced blues with a more urban sophistication not only defines Arnold's sound, but was also a significant contribution in the early, formative days of rock and roll. His early work with Bo Diddley and his highly influential singles in the late 1950s (including I Wish You Would and I Ain't Got You), brought him some local attention, but he never received the recognition he rightly deserved. Now, with his new release, ELDORADO CADILLAC (AL 4836), he shows that he is not only back where he belongs, he is back to stay.
In 1952, the teenaged Billy landed his first recording contract with Chicago's Cool label. It wasn't until his first record came out (I Ain't Got No Money b/w Hello Stranger ) under the name "Billy Boy Arnold" that he realized he had a nickname. "I didn't like it at first," recalls Billy Boy. "I was 17 and looked 15 but told people I was 19, so I didn't want to be known as a boy. I wanted to be a man." Though the recording was admittedly immature, the name stuck, and Billy Boy Arnold was on his way.
While still a teenager, Arnold hooked up with a young street musician/electronics buff named Ellis McDaniel (Bo Diddley) who fashioned an amplifier for Billy Boy out of an orange crate. Billy Boy eventually talked Diddley into auditioning for Chess Records. In 1955, with Billy Boy playing his signature "stop time" harmonica, Diddley scored the first of his many hits for Chess with Bo Diddley/I'm A Man . The future looked very bright, but Billy Boy didn't want to be a sideman. He wanted to make records under his own name.
After a misunderstanding with Leonard Chess (Bo Diddley told Arnold that Leonard didn't like him), Arnold crossed the street to the offices of VeeJay Records, where he was promptly signed. He recorded I Wish You Would (reportedly the first blues session to feature an electric bass), and it quickly became a regional hit. He was playing across the South Side of Chicago with stars like Little Walter and Junior Wells, and local radio airplay for his song was heavy. Even the great Muddy Waters took a liking to the young bluesman. "You made a good record," Waters said of I Wish You Would. "You keep on making those good records." And that's just what Billy Boy did: I Ain't Got You, She's Fine, She's Mine and Prisoner's Plea followed. Although only 20 years old, Billy Boy Arnold had arrived.
Arnold continued to play the Chicago clubs and record 45s throughout the late 1950s. His debut album, 1963's MORE BLUES FROM THE SOUTH SIDE for the Prestige label, remains a classic. But the gigs began to dry up, and the difficulty of raising a family and keeping a band together led Arnold to pursue a career as a Chicago bus driver and truant officer and later as a parole officer for the State of Illinois. By the middle of the 1960s, the first generation of British blues bands were taking notice of Arnold's talent-his VeeJay singles became valued collectors' items among the musicians. The Yardbirds and The Animals each had hits with Billy Boy's songs. Later, The Blasters and David Bowie both covered his material. All of this interest led Billy Boy to tour and record in Europe (and play the occasional U.S. festival gig) during the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s and in 2015 he is back!
Billy's New LP/CD:
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