By 1963 when Sonny Boy Williamson was booked on his first European tour, he was already near the end of his illustrious and colourful career. He was the quintessential old time blues musician from the Mississippi; so much so in fact that he sounds like a stereotype - except for the fact that most of his story is true.
He could have been born anywhere between 1897 and 1909, his last name at birth might have been Rice, or Miller, or maybe even Ford. In the 1940s the sponsor of his King Biscuit Time radio show, the Interstate Grocery Company, decided they would sell more flour if he posed as the Chicago Blue Harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson so he pretended that's who he was. When John Lee, the original Sonny Boy Williamson, was murdered our man filled those shoes and continued to do so until his death in 1965.
He started his career playing in juke joints and fish fries with Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and Robert Jr. Lockwood, and his last recording sessions were with young British musicians he met on his first tour of Europe in the early 1960s: The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton, The Animals with Eric Burdon and Alan Price, and the Brian Auger Band which also included Jimmy Page at the time.
Sonny Boy had gone over to Europe as part of the American Folk & Blues Festival and had so much fun in London he stayed on a permanent houseguest of the Yardbirds' producer Giorgio Gomelsky until his visa ran out. He managed to get back one more time before his death in 1964 and stayed until he felt his time was coming. Then he took himself back to the Delta where he died in bed on May 25th 1965.
One of the last gigs he did was an impromptu concert with a bunch of young Canadian musicians, formally Ronnie Hawkins' band, The Hawks. They were touring down South and went out of their way to hook up with Sonny Boy and backed him up one night in a juke joint. He had spent the whole night in between songs spitting into a bucket. Robbie Robertson went to check out the bucket at the end of the night and discovered it full of blood.