Born: Oct. 6, 1932 Greensboro, AL

Blues Harmonica Detroit Blues artists

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

little sonnyLittle Sonny (born Aaron Willis, October 6, 1932, Greensboro, Alabama) is an American electric blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter.[1] His early mentor and inspiration was Sonny Boy Williamson II. Nevertheless, Little Sonny stated that his nickname originated with his mother. "[She] called me 'Sonny boy' from the time I can remember."[2] He has released eight albums, including a trio on a subsidiary of Stax Records.[1] His 1973 release, Hard Goin' Up, reached the Top 50 in the US Billboard R&B chart.


He was born in 1932 and raised solely by his mother.[3] His early interest lay in baseball, before he relocated to Detroit in 1953.[1][3] At first he had no real interest in music until, as he explained, "But then I saw Sonny Boy Williamson II." Willis was "spellbound at the way he played. After the show I went home and practiced for hours. Every day after that I would practice until I got the sound I wanted." His daytime job was working in a used car lot.[3]

His first professional appearance was at the Good Times Bar in Detroit, playing in Washboard Willie's backing group. He put together his first band in March 1956.[4] For the following fifteen years Little Sonny performed in numerous Detroit clubs, often boosting his earnings by photographing customers between his on-stage appearances.[3] He ofttimes performed alongside John Lee Hooker, Eddie Kirkland and Baby Boy Warren.[1] Another club stalwart Eddie "Guitar" Burns provided accompaniment to Little Sonny on his debut single, "I Gotta Find My Baby" (1958), which was released by Duke Records. It was co-written with Little Sonny's wife, Maggie.[2] His follow-up release, "Love Shock" appeared on Excello label.[1] He received $25 for the latter track, before setting up his own label (Speedway Records) and selling sufficient copies of his next effort, "The Mix Up", to write off his production costs.[3]

Home recording his own tracks, in 1966 he leased "The Creeper" and "Latin Soul" to Revilot Records.[1] A later track, "Sonny’s Bag," became his first Top 20 hit in Detroit. By late 1969, Little Sonny finally recorded his debut album, the predominately instrumental, New King of Blues Harmonica, which he cut in less than six hours.[3] It was released on Enterprise, a subsidiary of Stax Records.[4] Despite their reputation for soul music productions, Little Sonny released three albums with them in the early 1970s. He also briefly appeared in their concert film, Wattstax.[1]

Black & Blue (1972) and 1973's Hard Goin' Up followed, with Little Sonny using an Old Standby 34B harmonica.[3] A lean period ensued before the British label Sequel Records issued Sonny Side Up in 1995. His accompanists included keyboard player Rudy Robinson, and Little Sonny's guitarist son Aaron Willis, Jr., who had both played on Hard Goin' Up over twenty years previously.[1]

Little Sonny appeared at Black Hills State University on June 24, 2000.[5]

His photograph collection, housed in the basement of his Detroit home, includes shots of John Lee Hooker, Eddie "Guitar" Burns, Eddie Kirkland, Joe Hunter, Eddie Willis, Bobby Bland, Washboard Willie, and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Little Sonny performed on October 4, 2008, at the Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival, in Detroit, with Eddie "Guitar" Burns, Otis Clay and Bobby Rush.[2]

He is not to be confused with Little Sonny Warner, Little Sonny Jones, or Little Sonny Parker.


New King of Blues Harmonica (1970) - Stax
Black & Blue (1972) - Stax (subsequently re-issued in 1992)
Hard Goin' Up (1973) - Stax - US Billboard R&B chart #42[6]
Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival, Vol. 2: Blues With a Feeling (1995) - live album - Schoolkids Sonny Side Up (1995) - Sequel (UK)
Blues with a Feeling (1996) - Sequel (UK)
Live in Japan 1994 (1997) - P-Vine
The Best Love I've Ever Had (2003) - P-Vine[7]


a b c d e f g h i Dahl, Bill. "Little Sonny". Allmusic. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
a b c Holdship, Bill. "Captured for life: A Detroit narrative in photos by a true Motor City original". Metro Times. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
^ a b c d e f g - accessed February 2010
^ a b - accessed February 2010
^ - accessed February 2010
^ "Allmusic ((( Little Sonny > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))".
^ "Allmusic ((( Little Sonny > Discography > Main Albums )))".





New King of the Blues Harmonica

Black & Blue

Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Fest

iTunes: Little Sonny

Aaron "Little Sonny" Willis 1992 awardee, Detroit (Wayne County), blues harmonica musician

Detroit has been an important regional blues center since at least the late 1920s. Among the many prominent African-American blues musicians working in Detroit, one of the most respected by fellow musicians, is Aaron "Little Sonny" Willis, "King of the Blues Harmonica." A prominent composer and arranger who has written more than 100 songs, he is perhaps best known for the hot, hard-driving harmonica sound that has made his home an international mecca for those interested in blues. Many view him as heir to the great blues harp player Sonnie Boy Williamson, from whom he derives his nickname, "Little Sonny."

Little Sonny, b. 1932, grew up in Greensboro, Alabama, where he sang gospel and spirituals. After his mother gave him a toy harmonica, he increasingly listened to country and western and blues harmonica on the radio, as well as recordings of famous blues performers. He moved to Detroit permanently in 1953 when the legendary blues scene on Hastings Street was reaching its peak. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Little Sonny held house band engagements at Detroit blues clubs for 20 years, employing many prominent bluesmen. He made his second recording, "Love Shock," in the back room of Joe's Record Shop (later the JVB label), which was re-released and distributed nationally by Excello.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Little Sonny toured nationally and recorded three albums with the Stax subsidiary, Enterprise. His original blues and R & B songs have been released on albums by such artists as Albert King and Bobby Womack. A true appreciation of Little Sonny's artistry, however, can only be obtained in person. He is a consummate entertainer, moving and playing on stage with incredible intensity and energy. He continues to tour internationally, and currently has a five-member band called Little Sonny and the Detroit Rhythm Group.

Little Sonny has been a mentor to many musicians, not the least of whom are his talented sons, Anthony and Aaron, Jr. His message is this: "You must know who you are before you can find any other direction. Blues is the roots of you. Blues, jazz, spirituals, this is you." (1)

(1) Willis, Aaron. "Little Sonny Willis," Global Sounds Artists. Arts Midwest.


 More Info:

JB Blues: Little Sonny -- King of the Blues Harmonica

Video: Little Sonny interview:

Video: Little Sonny. Wade In The Water

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