A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #37 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
Borrowing is a part of the Blues, and it’s not only later Rock musicians borrowing from the Delta or Chicago Blues originators. Blues musicians borrowed chord progressions, licks, lyrics, and gimmicks from one another all the time. While working for the King Biscuit Flour Hour radio show out of Helena, Arkansas, Alex Miller went so far as to borrow his stage name, Sonny Boy Williamson, from John Lee Williamson, who had been recording and gigging around Chicago as Sonny Boy for years. It’s why, to this day, you can’t refer to a Sonny Boy Williamson without adding a (I) or (II) to the name for clarification.
Sonny Boy (II) had a slight crossover hit in 1963 with “Help Me.” It climbed all the way into the top 25 on Billboard’s R&B chart. “Help Me” borrowed from a source just a bit outside the blues, taking its chunky organ sound and propulsive bass line from Booker T. and the MG’s “Green Onions.” It’s a case of the Blues’s influence coming full circle and resulting in tiny bit of mainstream success.
But don’t write the song off as a mere imitation of a Soul classic. It’s got a great rhythm section with Lafayette Leake on organ, Milton Rector on bass, Al Duncan on drums, and Matt Murphy* on guitar. Add the huge sound of Sonny Boy’s chugging harmonica and—dare I say it—they can give Booker T. and the MG’s a run for their money.
All that aside, it’s really Sonny Boy’s vocals that make the song more than just a footnote in blues history. Despite an ornery, problematic reputation, Sonny Boy could still turn on the charm to deliver a lyric. He gets into the pocket of the groovy rhythm section and sings about co-dependence with a kind of friendly vulnerability that makes it funny:
When I walk, walk with me
When I talk, you talk to me
Oh baby, I can’t do it all by myself
You know if you don’t help me darling
I’ll have to find myself somebody else
It’s just altogether irresistible. Stop by the library to pick up our copy of Sonny Boy Williamson: His Best, it’s got this classic plus nineteen other too often overlooked gems.
*Just a quick note: yes, we are talking about the same Matt “Guitar” Murphy who would later work with a number of the MG’s in The Blues Brothers Band while playing Aretha Franklin’s burger flipping husband in the film.
Review by Matthew