Recorded in Chicago, Illinois between 1955 and 1958.
Originally issued on the Chess Records' Checker imprint, Down and Out Blues was the first long-player ever issued on Sonny Boy Williamson; and indeed, it was the only album of his work that Williamson ever saw issued in his lifetime. As with most Chess Records albums of the 1950s and early '60s, it was really more a collection of singles, B-sides, and related sessions than a unified body of work, but it does provide a good cross-section of his work over the years preceding its release. Leading off with his biggest hit, "Don't Start Me Talkin'" -- which had Muddy Waters' band (featuring Jimmy Rogers on guitar) backing him -- most of the rest of the record came from subsequent sessions. And the deference is notable, Luther Tucker and Robert Jr. Lockwood's guitars providing a much more subtle and restrained background for Williamson's voice and harp. This is where his playing truly takes off, in soaring flights on numbers such as "All My Love in Vain" and "Fattening Frogs for Snakes," and his singing moves into compelling corners of expressiveness on songs such as "The Key (To Your Door)." A lot of this record consists of some of the most popular numbers in Williamson's output, including "Your Funeral and My Trial" and "99," and virtually all of it has been extensively recompiled in the decades since his death -- but in its time, this was an extremely generous showcase for his best-known work. ~ Bruce Eder