Take One: Sonny Boy Williamson II – Don’t Start Me Talkin’ – 1955 Checker Record 284

by | Apr 9, 2022 | 0 comments

Spinning in the ‘rock room’ today is an influential and important 7″ cut during the heyday of early  electric blues. Aleck Miler, Alex Miller, aka Rice Miller, aka Sonny Boy Williamson II was a master harmonica player and songwriter in the blues idiom. This is the man who taught Howlin’ Wolf how to play the harp as well as the man who carried 12 harps and a bottle of whisky in his briefcase.

Sonny Boy Williamson II’s first single for Checker Records (a subsidiary of Chess Records) ‘Don’t Start Me Talkin’, Checker 824 was released in September of 1955. Sometimes referred to as ‘Don’t Start Me To Talkin’, the single was b/w ‘All My Love In Vain’ and was featured in the September 24, 1955 edition of ‘Billboard’, Williamson has a very funny side here, as he warns the gossips of the neighborhood of the dirt he is going to spread about them if they don’t stop talking around his back. The aforementioned ‘A’ side would eventually climb to number three on the R and B charts. It would also be featured on Sonny Boy’s 1959’s full length LP Down and Out Blues, an album that would collect a number of his early singles.

The needle drops and the song begins sounding like we have caught the band already in progress. The well defined guitars develop a circular lick in conjunction Sonny Boy’s harp line before falling into the start and top rhythm of the verse. The Chess band collected on this single features a venerable ‘who’s who’ of the blues. The rhythm section is comprised of Willie Dixon (bass) and Fred Below (drums), Jimmy Rogers and Muddy Waters (guitars), Otis Spann (piano) and Sonny Boy on vocals and harmonica. Oh my lord!

Keith Richards refers to the ‘ancient art of (guitar) weaving and it is on formative display on ‘Don’t Start Me Talkin’ as Waters and Rogers tie the stringy two guitar attack into a tight knot. Mellow but rustically funky Spann comes alive in the turnarounds splaying his well known runs into a tinkling downpour soaking the chugging arrangement. The Chess sound in alive and moving with an honest urgency, the talent of the backing band obvious.

The song features a flashy cast of characters including Rosie, Fanny Mae, Jack, Jim and our good ol’ reliable narrator. Sonny Boy slyly warns his fellow friends and enemies at the end of each verse, ‘I’m gonna break up this signifying, cause somebody’s got to go’. Williamson composed a complex small hood narrative of back stabbing, cheating and dire warnings lending the accelerate and then break groove of the arrangement a sharpened edge. The group as to be expected is tight but loose. The guitar and piano work is especially busy with detailed coloring running continuously through the darker reaches of the mix. A classic sound and performance.

In addition, a fine later era performance that can be found here is Sonny Boy II’s December 1963 performance on UK television with a backing band made up of British cats. While the arrangement is straight, Sonny Boy lays down a one man clinic on harp for his British fans. The definitely don’t make 7″ like ‘Don’t Start Me Talkin’ anymore says the ‘rock room’ curator while yelling at clouds. Featuring an almost unbelievable cast of musicians as well as a funky smooth reading by the one and only Sonny Boy II, the track is an essential and foundational block of electric blues.

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