R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax

Straight Up Blues


Like sauce dripping off barbequed ribs, the sweet yet tangy sound of Memphis rhythm and blues seeps from every note on Little Sonny's Hard Goin' Up (Stax, 1997). Inspired by Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Sonny wails electric Chicago blues on harmonica and vocals; back in the engine room, the Stax rhythm machine churns out thick and nasty blue funk.

Little Sonny (Aaron Willis) didn't mess around with the blues. He laid down his Stax debut New King of the Blues Harmonica (1995) in less than six hours and cut its follow-up, Black and Blue (1992), which features his gale force blow through "Wade in the Water," over one weekend in Memphis. Hard Goin' Up, his third for Stax, opens with three tunes written by Bettye Crutcher (part of the team that wrote "Who's Making Love" for Johnnie Taylor) including "My Woman is Good to Me," a throbbing blues groove that the group extends so long it turns hypnotic.

Sonny wrote the rest. Eight minutes of "You Made Me Strong" drives its rocking beat, thumping bassline, and harmonica hurricane deep into your brain. He drops harmonica out to simply sing "I Want You," while his harmonica and voice sing as equal partners in "The Day You Left Me," a ballad that reflects William Bell's hit "You Don't Miss Your Water." Sonny's sinewy extended instrumental "Sure Is Good" howls like a winter wind blown straight out of the Windy City but detoured through the funky rhythms of his Detroit hometown.