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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bob Corritore Blues News

From Bob Corritore


July 20, 2010
 "The Billy Boy Arnold video was part of a feature that was produced by Mark Baum and the Fox Valley Blues Society in honor of the 60th anniversary of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s first recording session in 1937, which took place in the Sky Room club on the top of the Leland Hotel in Aurora, IL, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago.  For many years the Leland Hotel was the tallest building between Chicago and St. Louis (I think it’s 17 stories), and on the top floor was a ballroom and nightclub that was known at various times as the Sky Room, The Sky Club, and The Blue Sky Lounge.  As with many hotels of the era, the ballroom featured a live dance band, sometimes broadcast on a local radio station.  This was not a blues venue though - it was strictly white dance and pop bands.  But in the ‘off hours’ it served as a good place for recording sessions, since it had decent acoustics and was already set up for radio broadcasts, and was acoustically isolated from the guest rooms.  The story I’ve always heard is that Sonny Boy’s record label, in order to dodge the powerful musicians union in Chicago, rented the space for the sessions in Aurora so they could be outside the jurisdiction of the union.  At any rate, Sonny Boy’s first several recording sessions were held there, along with early sessions by people such as Big Joe Williams, Robert Lee McCoy (who recorded the song “Prowling Night Hawk” there, which gave him his nickname Robert Nighthawk), Walter Davis, Yank Rachell, Henry Townsend and many others.
Because Billy Boy was mentored briefly by Sonny Boy, and was profoundly influenced by his music, he was invited to be interviewed by Mark Baum and myself for a video production for local cable TV in Aurora.  The cable TV studio was literally in the shadow of the Leland Hotel building, which by this time had been converted to Fox Island Place Condos.  The management graciously allowed us access to the ballroom (which had in recent years been divided up for use as dance rehearsal studios), so after the interview, we went up and shot video of Billy Boy performing a couple of Sonny Boy’s songs which had been recorded in the same room 60 years earlier, along with one of Billy Boy’s own songs from his recent Alligator CD.  The whole thing was produced into a one hour feature which was shown on local cable TV a few months later, coinciding with the Fox Valley Blues Festival, which is held a couple of blocks away from the former Leland Hotel
I attended that festival strictly as a fan, but while I was there, Mark Baum asked if I would do a brief interview Junior Wells, who was playing on the fest. Junior had of course also been deeply influenced by Sonny Boy, having recorded several of his songs including “Good Morning Schoolgirl”, “You Better Cut That Out”, and “Hoodoo Man Blues”.   10 minutes later we were on our way up to the Sky Room again, where we did a brief and completely off the cuff interview with no notes, no preparation, about 20 minutes to go before Junior was scheduled to hit the stage  – and maybe most importantly, no air conditioning or open windows on one of the hottest days of the year.  Not exactly ideal conditions, but I’m glad I was able to do it, and of course Junior was as gracious as could be and a complete pro.  Little did we know at the time, but this was probably Junior’s last interview; not long after, Junior was diagnosed with cancer, ceased public appearances, and died the following January."
Here are the clips:
1) Billy Boy Arnold singing "Good Morning Little School Girl" with Rockin' Johnny on guitar and a intro by Scott Dirks (click here)
2) Billy Boy singing "Black Gal" (click here)
3) Billy Boy singing his song "Man Of Considerable Taste" and end credits (click here)
4) Junior Wells interview with Scott Dirks, part 1 (click here)  
5) Junior Wells interview,  part 2 (click here)

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