The “It’s Still Winter” Blues

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Now it’s called seasonal affective disorder, but the bluesmen and women who came up north from the Mississippi Delta and other points south might have gotten to the middle of a cold Chicago February and just called it the blues. There are plenty of blues songs featuring the weather: most commonly floods (see Charlie Patton’s High Water Everywhere and Bessie Smith’s Blackwater Blues for good examples). But I could only come up with a couple of cold weather songs (add yours in the comments, if you’ve got ’em). Maybe it just got too cold to write down lyrics or play the guitar.

Fortunately for those of us still freezing up here (I’m just outside Boston and it’s going down to 7º tonight) Sonny Boy Williamson came through with his classic Nine Below Zero. Sonny Boy tended to have trouble with women, but his usual procedure was to change his trouble into theirs if he could (and often right back to his – see his Your Funeral and My Trial for that turnabout). In this one, though, he stays both literally and figuratively out in the cold.

Here’s a video of Sonny Boy Williamson’s performance of Nine Below Zero, from the must-see DVD, American Folk-Blues Festival: The British Tours 1963-1966. On it, among others, are Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson and more, all in a sympathetic setting with great backing bands (that’s Otis Spann behind Sonny Boy).

Note that this is Sonny Boy Williamson II, born Aleck “Rice” Miller. There was another Sonny Boy Williamson, and Miller took his name for reasons that remain, to me at least, obscure. He later claimed he had it first, but no one believed that for a minute. Here’s a case where the original is decidedly not the greatest: Sonny Boy II is one of the best, and he’s at his best here. Nine Below Zero! Please enjoy.

 

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