Blues Bytes


January 2022

Billy Boy Arnold
Come Back Baby, I Wish You Would
Jasmine Records

Billy Boy ArnoldBilly Boy Arnold got his recording start at age 17 in 1953, when he recorded “Hello Stranger” on the Cool label in Chicago, where he was given the nickname “Billy Boy.” In the early ’50s, he teamed with Bo Diddley and played harmonica on several Diddley tracks for Checker Records in 1955, including two of his biggest, “I’m A Man” and “Bo Diddley.” At the same time, Arnold recorded a couple of tracks of his own for Checker, which were not released at the time (subsequently released in the Chess Blues box set). That same year, he signed a contract with Vee-Jay Records, where he recorded several tracks that have settled in as blues standards over the years.

The U.K. label Jasmine Records has released a number of compilation sets from blues and R&B stars of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s over the past few years. Since many of these recordings having fallen out of print in recent years and have become quite expensive to collect, the label has been a godsend to many blues fans. Arnold’s early recordings have fallen in that category for a while, and Jasmine has done blues fans a service by compiling these recordings in Come Back Baby, I Wish You Would, which includes all of Arnold’s recordings: the 1953 Cool recordings, the Checker recordings (solo and with Diddley), and all of his Vee-Jay tracks.

Arnold learned harmonica at the feet of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson (meeting the harmonica legend shortly before his untimely death in 1948) and played in Diddley’s band for a while. Both of those influences figure prominently in his early work. “I Wish You Would,” one of Arnold’s biggest tunes, incorporates that great “Diddley Beat” as its rhythm and his harmonica playing invokes the first Williamson’s style time and time again on these tracks (as well as his contemporaries Little Walter and Junior Wells).

Of course, all of the standout Vee-Jay tracks are present, including “I Wish You Would,” the oft-covered “I Ain’t Got You,” “Don’t Stay Out All Night,” “I Was Fooled,” “You’ve Got Me Wrong,” “Rockin’ Itis,” and the tragic “Prisoner’s Plea.” Jasmine also includes the five tracks by Bo Diddley that feature Arnold’s harmonica backing, so listeners will have a fresh copy of “I’m A Man,” and “Bo Diddley” with re-mastered sound. While there is some background noise present on a few tracks, particularly Arnold’s solo Checker tunes, the sound is an improvement from the previous collection on Charly from the early ’80s.

On these tracks, Arnold is backed by some of the Windy City’s finest musicians, including guitarists Diddley, Jody Williams, and Syl Johnson, pianists Otis Spann and Sunnyland Slim, drummers Clifton James and Earl Phillips, and bassists Willie Dixon and Mack Thompson. Listening to these early recordings, you get a feeling of Arnold’s confidence and exuberance as a harmonica player and vocalist, but it certainly had to give him even more confidence to have these masterful musicians playing behind him.

Arnold’s last recordings for Vee-Jay were in 1957. Although he did record the superb More Blues on the South Side for Prestige in 1963, his recording and performance opportunities dwindled in the ’60s until he ended up leaving the business and working in Chicago as a bus driver and, later, as a parole officer. He recorded sporadically until 1993, when he hooked up with Alligator Records for a pair of excellent releases (1993’s Back Where I Belong and 1995’s Eldorado Cadillac), followed by equally strong recordings for Electro-Fi and Stony Plain.

At 86, Arnold is now one of the elder statesmen of Chicago blues. He recently published his memoirs, The Blues Dream of Billy Boy Arnold, co-written by Kim Field, which provides a vivid description of the Chicago music scene of the past 70 years and his contributions to that scene.

Come Back Baby, I Wish You Would provides blues fans with the definitive look at Billy Boy Arnold’s earliest recordings. Hats off to Jasmine Records for compiling this set and getting this great music back out there for blues fans to enjoy.

--- Graham Clarke



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