Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast

Billy Boy Arnold interview

January 09, 2022 Neil Warren Season 1 Episode 53
Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast
Billy Boy Arnold interview
Show Notes Chapter Markers

Billy Boy Arnold joins me on episode 53.

Today we have a little part of blues harmonica history, as Billy lived through the heyday of the blues in Chicago and was a peer of the many great players at the time, being born just five years after Little Walter himself. He took a couple of lessons with John Lee Williamson, aka SBWI, at just 12 years of age. 

Billy released his first record at the age of 17 and then went on to release two songs with Bo Diddley, including coming up with possibly the most well known harmonica riff ever on I’m A Man. Shortly afterwards Billy went on to record his harmonica classic, I Wish You Would. 

Billy took some time off from touring for a few years before he came back strong with two albums released through Alligator records in the 1990s. He has continued to record and release great albums until recently, and his passion for the harmonica is as infectious as ever after over 70 years of playing.


More Blues On The South Side album:

The Blues Dream of Billy Boy Arnold book (by Kim Field):

Kim Field website:


Tom Jones playing I Wish You Would live:

American Blues Legends Tour 1975:

Studio recording of song from SBWI album:

John Peel session with BBC from 1977:

Three Harp Boogie song with James Cotton and Paul Butterfield:

Podcast website:



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This podcast is sponsored by SEYDEL harmonicas - visit the oldest harmonica factory in the world at www.seydel1847.com  or on Facebook or Instagram at SEYDEL HARMONICAS

Billy was around in the heyday of Chicago blues
Billy was inspired to take up harmonica when he heard John Lee Williamson (SBWI)
Had two lessons with SBWI, when he was 12
SBWI taught Billy how to ‘choke’ (bend) the harmonica in the lessons
What was SBWI like as a person
Didn’t pay anything for the lessons to SBWI
Blues popularity in Chicago
Billy released his first record at age 17, Hello Stranger
When Little Walter was becoming popular in Chicago, leading to every band in the city having a harmonica player
Billy has been a singer as well as harp player since the beginning
Where Billy got his stage name of ‘Billy Boy Arnold’
The importance of making records to gain recognition
Recorded two tracks with Bo Diddley
How Billy was involved with coming up with the name Bo Diddley
Played on I’m A Man with Bo Diddley, coming up with possibly the most famous harmonica riff ever
How Billy left Chess Records to sign for Vee Jay records in order to record under his own name
Recording of first version of I Wish You Would, Billy’s most well know song
More on how Bo Diddley got that stage name
I Wish You Would established Billy Boy and he was a regular on the Chicago blues scene
Billy was a contemporary of some of the other big names in blues harmonica
Some of the albums Billy released in the 1960s
British Blues boom in 1960s, with The Yardbirds recording two of Billy’s songs
David Bowie released a version of I Wish You Would, and Tom Jones played it live
Billy was part of the American Blues Legends tour
Came back with release of two albums with Alligator Records in the 1990s
How Billy approaches writing his songs and importance of performing own songs
Started touring around the world following success of two Alligator albums
Boogie and Shuffle album in 2001, not on Alligator label
Album with Rusty Zinn in 2005 and Billy playing blues chromatic
Checkin’ It Out album recorded in the UK with Englishman Tony McPhee
2008 tribute album to John Lee Williamson (SBWI)
How John Lee Williamson influenced Billy’s playing, and how he evolved beyond it
Billy Boy Arnold Sings Big Bill Broonzy album in 2012
Appears on the 2013 album: Remembering Little Walter, with various contributing harp players
Secret to longevity of Billy’s career
Recorded a session on the BBC John Peel radio show in 1997
Recorded a song with James Cotton and Paul Butterfield, and emergence of white harp players
A book has just been published about Billy’s life,
Blues nominations for Billy
10 minute question
How Billy approached practising
Billy’s harmonicas of choice
Different positions
Amps and mics used in the early days
SBWI was first to use amplifiers for harmonica
Most recent choices of amps and mics
Effects pedals
Billy still hoping to get out playing when pandemic eases
How he kept himself busy over the pandemic
Which harmonica players does Billy listen to now