Sonny Rhodes is one of the blues world's great original characters. He deliver a smoking mix of contemporary blues. For the past four decades he has garnered well deserved accolades from his contemporaries, peers, and fans worldwide. Sonny is a genuine Texas bluesman, a blistering instrumentalist, Rhodes is a gritty singer with a real passion for the music he performs, one of the very few artists in the blues history who play the lap-steel guitar, an instrument who that gives to his music a unique sound. On stage, with some of the most colorful suits, Sonny is an unforgettable dashing figure, that provides a contrast to the gritty power of the songs he writes and the music he makes. In his younger days Sonny Rhodes was surrounded by Texas Blues.
Born in Smithville, Texas that on the third of November nineteen-forty a boy was born to Le Roy and Julia Smith, they named him Clarence Edward , as both parents were sharecroppers they were firmly placed at the bottom of any social structure that may have existed at that time with not the slightest chance of improvement. He was the youngest of six children and in the uncertain world of a sharecropper farming life, hardship went hand in hand with poverty. As a young boy Sonny would spend his days picking cotton with the rest of his family, it was during this time he acquired the nickname ‘Sonny Rhodes’ and since then the moniker has stayed with him.
It was around the time of the mid fifties that a four decade long friendship with Albert Collins and Johnny Clyde Copeland was formed. Together they would frequent the many blues clubs in and around the Austin and Houston area enjoying and studying the many skills, styles and calibre of artists such as Little Junior Parker, Hop Wilson, Fenton Robinson and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown to name but a few. Around this period he spent two years playing bass for Albert Collins; he also provided bass for Freddy King. After his graduation, his mother Julia presented Sonny with his first electric guitar and amplifier, a Fender.
Later that year he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and eventually spent a total of eight years in the service.
Prior to his enlistment in the Navy he formed his first band entitled Clarence Smith and the Daylighters, they performed regularly in the blues clubs in the Austin area. The music the Sonny and the band were playing was heavily influenced by T-Bone Walker, Percy Mayfield and B.B. King. During the early years of Sonny’s time in the services the band released only one single for the local Austin label Domino Records. After his initial training period in the Navy Sonny became for a while a radio operator, he also began to expand his talents by working as a closed circuit disc jockey providing in his broadcasts music, banter and blue jokes for the entertainment of the sailors on board ship. When he was stationed in Fresno, California in nineteen sixty-three he subsequently decided to make his home there. In nineteen sixty-six, Sonny signed to the record label Galaxy Records and promptly moved to Oakland California. Between the years nineteen sixty-seven and sixty-eight Galaxy released a total of three singles from Sonny’s first session with The Ray Shanklin Orchestra; although he recorded more numbers for the label they were not released. In the meantime Sonny met the Hawaiian Steel guitarist L.C.”Good Rockin’” Robinson, another Texan musician who was also based in Oakland.
Robinson showed Sonny how to play the steel guitar; the very instrument that Sonny was so entranced by when he saw Hop Wilson playing the instrument in the blues clubs all those years ago. Sonny between the years nineteen seventy two and seventy four he ran his own blues club in Berkley called “Sonny Rhodes House of Blue Lights,” he also at this time played in Jimmy McCracklin’s band and began to front his own bands. Sonny started recording regularly in nineteen seventy-six, in the same year he undertook a number of European tours and found a whole new audience eager to see and hear his music.
After he left Oakland and move first to New jersey and then to Florida, recently Sonny move back in California, where he his resident now. From his base there he plans his endless tours (between two hundred and fifty and three hundred concerts a year in America, Canada and Europe) and album releases. On any given night in North America he's seen wearin' the "peach" and heard burnin' up his lap steel guitar with the Blues. Sonny has recorded over three hundred songs with a very versatile repertoire: from ballads, soul, R&B, deep blues, and some of the jumpin’est shuffles you’ll ever dance to. Sonny’s music is powerful and deeply emotional. His gravel voice is a perfect compliment to the raw edged Texas blues sound of his guitar and lap steel guitar style of playing. He is an imaginative songwriter whose songs tell a story, “Songs come across me, and you have to work them out, write ‘em down, and put them into shape”. The hardest working Bluesman in America, he's a living legend from East Bay Oakland to the Florida coast.
He has been honoured by the Smithsonian Institute for his contribution to the arts and nominated many times at W.C. Handy Awards,and honoured by The American Congress with the title of “Blues Legend”.
Although at the time of writing we are fast approaching the tail end of two thousand and eight and are hopefully looking towards a brighter new year; it is now that Sonny has chosen to release this album to date, produced by a long time friend and his european booking agent Tano Ro. It is an album full of classic fifties period feel; warm richly chocolaty guitar, laced with a low down and beautifully dirty emotion-filled harmonica sound which certainly adds to the proceedings; covered with an extra sweet layer of mellow lap-steel. This diverse and extremely engaging collection exemplifies the ever subtle sounds and versatility of a lap-steel when in the hands of a master such as Sonny. Whether burning up the carpet with fast moving groovers such as; “Can’t Dance Boogie” and “Shake Your Hips,” or smoothly salving the tortured soul with heartfelt slowburners such as; “Tell Me The Truth”. Joining Sonny, who takes lead vocals and plays guitar and lap-steel, are Tiz Rooster Galli-guitar, Luke Tonani-bass, David Malito-drums. These musicians are a very tight unit indeed, providing a solid unobtrusive platform for Sonny to excel but at the same time adding unexpected succulent flourishes to the whole sound where and when it matters most.
The featured guest artists on the album are three of the most talented and highly respected harmonica players on the planet today: R.J.Mischo, Johnny Sansone and Brian Templeton. As they are part of a tight knit circle of musicians playing today, they accordingly understand each others finely tuned nuances and playing virtuosity; each capturing the moods and essences of the numbers; adding vital texture and atmosphere to Sonny’s superb playing.
You cannot go wrong. If you miss this you not only ‘miss the boat’ but the train and plane as well!
Put on your dancing shoes and slip slide away!