Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sonny & Brownie

In a comment on my last post, friend of Mighty Toy Cannon, Bob Hicks from Art Scatter, tells of his encounter with bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. That great story prompted me to dig up a few videos of the pair.

The first is Sonny and Brownie on Pete Seeger’s “Rainbow Quest” playing the classic blues tune, “Key to the Highway.”

I discovered Sonny and Brownie from an album pulled from a record store remainder bin when I was sixteen. I ended up buying four or five more albums and spent many hours listening to Sonny’s harmonica blowing and signature whooping, and Brownie’s guitar and voice. When I listen to them now, I realize what a deep influence Brownie had on my own guitar playing. I think I also learned a little about playing the harmonica just by listening to Sonny (though there’s no way I can get close to his distinctive sound).

Again from "Rainbow Quest," this video superbly demonstrates Sonny Terry's whoopin' and falsetto hollerin' and great rhythmic blowing.

Two more tunes, "Red River Blues" and "Crow Jane." (One of these days, I'll come back with a post with Skip James singing "Crow Jane.")

Trivia: Sonny Terry appeared on Broadway in the original cast of "Finian's Rainbow." Brownie McGhee also appeared on Broadway in Tennessee Williams' play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in the mid-50's.

More Trivia: Not to end on a sour note, but I've heard tell that despite their great musical partnership, Sonny and Brownie actually hated each other's guts. I read somewhere (in a Muddy Waters biography, perhaps) that over the course of an entire European blues tour, the pair did not exchange a single word off stage. The two eventually broke up the partnership.

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