Sonny Boy Williamson “Bring It On Home”

It was 1969, Zeppelin recorded a track for their album Led Zeppelin II. A song they took credit for writing, called “Bring it On Home.” You may know it. Goes like this.

Great song. One problem though - they didn’t write it. See, Bring it On Home was written by a man named Willie Dixon. The most prolific songwriter of his time.  While Zeppelin embellished the track with a scorching Jimmy Page guitar break, it wasn’t the first time they neglected to credit Dixon for his work. And that led to a legal scuffle and a settlement in Dixon’s favor.

Nowadays all the songs that Zeppelin borrowed from Willie Dixon include his songwriting credits. And—as you might figure—there’s a lot of money in that. Pretty cool when you consider all the black folk cheated out of their publishing rights over the years.

Now, Zeppelin’s version is great in itself. But I’m a fan of the original. Dixon wrote it, but it was performed by another legend. Sonny Boy Williamson Two.

Here’s the orginal: Willie Dixon’s song from 1963, ”Bring it On Home.”

sonny-boy-williamsonAlex “Rice” Miller, also known as Sonny Boy Williamson II was born on the Sara Jones Plantation in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, on December 5. The year of his birth is disputed, but ethnomusicologists have recently settled on 1912 as an acceptable date.

As a young man, Miller worked as a sharecropper alongside his stepfather, harvesting cotton and doing fieldwork. At the same time, he began playing his harmonica for tips on the streets of Greenville, Mississippi.

In 1941, Miller was hired on to the King Biscuit Time Show, to advertise King Biscuit Baking Flour on the KFFA radio station in Helena, Arkansas. It was about this time that the producers and sponsors started billing him as Sonny Boy Williamson II, with his band as the King Biscuit Boys. In 1949, he moved in with his sister and her husband, Howlin’ Wolf.

Sonny Boy II’s first recording session took place at Trumpet Records in 1951. After Trumpet went bankrupt in 1955, Sonny Boy II was signed to Chess records. It was during his years on Checker, a Chess subsidiary label, that he garnered the most acclaim.

Sonny Boy II recorded all throughout the fifties and sixties, eventually finding an audience in Europe during the folk blues revival. He made a number of recordings while overseas, including albums with The Yardbirds and the Animals. The Led Zeppelin Biography “Hammer of the Gods,” makes much mention of Sonny Boy, including the story that he set his hotel room on fire while trying to cook a rabbit in a coffee percolator, and that Robert Plant stole one of his harmonicas.  Author Robert Palmer maintains that Sonny Boy II greatly enjoyed his time abroad—until he stabbed a man in a street fight in England, and had to abruptly leave.

He returned to the US, and to the King Biscuit Time show. Sonny Boy Williamson II died of a heart attack in his sleep on May 25, 1965. He was discovered after he didn’t show up to the station for his radio hour.