JUKE BOY BONNER
Juke Boy Bonner got his name as a kid, because he would sing along with the juke-box. This multi-instrumentalist sometimes performed as a one-man-band, and he never had a hit record, but he wrote some excellent, perceptive songs about his hard life, his opinions on ‘race-relations’ and the economics of poverty.
Weldon Bonner was born in Bellville Texas in 1932. He learned to sing in a Gospel group, as well as standing by the juke-box, and when he got a guitar as a kid, he was determined to become a Bluesman.
In 1948, he won a talent contest in Houston and got a spot on local radio, which led to gigs in Blues clubs and getting hired for parties. With a harp in a neck-rack and various pedals for percussion instruments, he could put on quite a show. The appetite for Texas Blues at the other end of the ‘Sunset Route’ led to Juke Boy moving to the West Coast in 1954, where he signed for Irma Records in Oakland. It did not work out, and by the end of the 50s he was back in Houston. With a growing reputation on the local club scene, Juke Boy cut the ‘One Man Trio’ album for Flyright Records in 1967, which, in turn, attracted the attention of Arhoolie records, for whom Juke Boy recorded three excellent albums. Using a simple boogie beat, somewhat like Jimmy Reed, ‘Going Back to the Country’, ‘Life Gave Me a Dirty Deal’ and ‘The Struggle’ contain Juke Boy’s quirky personal songs like ‘Stay Off Lyons Avenue’ and ‘I Got My Passport’. Juke Boy was something of a poet, and his clever way with words filled these albums with highly individualistic Blues songs.
Juke Boy in fine form at the Montreux Festival in 1975;
The American Blues Festival took Juke Boy on several tours of Europe, in the late 60s and 70s and he recorded several sessions in London. Sadly, none of his records sold well so he took manual jobs to keep body and soul together. Juke Boy continued to play local gigs around Houston and recorded for a few small labels, until he died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1978.