Billy Boy Arnold | SPACE | Blues, Gospel, and R&B | Chicago Reader
This is a past event.
When: Fri., Aug. 10, 8 p.m. 2012
Price: $15-$27
Harmonica veteran Billy Boy Arnold is best known for his early work with Bo Diddley (that's his harp on the 1955 hit "I'm a Man," the B side of "Bo Diddley") and his own subsequent sides for Vee-Jay. But he's also one of the few living Chicagoans with connections to the prewar blues era—among his associates in the late 40s and early 50s were harmonica pioneer John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and guitarist-­songwriter Big Bill Broonzy. Arnold's latest CD, Billy Boy Arnold Sings Big Bill Broonzy (Electro-Fi), is a tribute to the man he's often cited as one of his original inspirations, and it's a gem. Backed by a crew of stalwart traditionalists, Arnold strips down his style to its deep-blues basics: his harp tone alternates between hawk squalls and throwbacky wheezing that recalls a medicine-show accordion or a foot-pumped player piano, and his playful improvisations are relentlessly linear. One of Broonzy's gifts was his ability to inhabit multiple personas in his songs—he made a diverse cast of protagonists come alive in his lyrics, and Arnold delivers them with tough-minded determination and sardonic humor. Broonzy also drew musical influences from a diversity of sources, including traditional folk, blues, pop, and jazz, and Arnold likewise does him justice on that front, proving himself more than equal to the task of invoking and paying homage to one of the greatest and most influential figures in the blues. —David Whiteis



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