Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Don't Start Me To Talking

for Cary Wolfson & Leland Rucker

Alex (or “Aleck”) Miller,
called “Rice” as a boy,
& “Little Boy Blue”
as a juvenile performer
working the streets of Glendora,

Mississippi, & other little Delta towns
from the age of 6,
starting around 1903 (though his sisters claim
he was born in 1908).

Rice built his reputation
as a master of the harmonica
& came to local fame
by means of “King Biscuit Time”
on KFFA Radio—

by then he was known
(apparently at the instigation
of his sponsors)
as “Sonny Boy Williamson”
& soon had his own brand of groceries,

”Sonny Boy Meal,”
with his portrait
painted on the sack,
milled, bagged & marketed
by the Interstate Grocery Company.

Yet there was another
”Sonny Boy Williamson,”
born John Lee Williamson
out of Jackson, Tennessee,

just north & east of Memphis,
born in 1915
(or either 1914),
who had the good fortune
to record for BlueBird,

the “race label”
operated by RCA Victor,
as early as 1937,
by which time
he had established himself in Chicago

& was soon to gain national fame
as the “King
of the Blues Harmonica”
until John Lee Williamson was killed

by some thugs with knives
& lead pipes
on his way home from a gig
on the South Side of Chicago
late one night in 1948.

Three years later,
at the age of 54 (or at least
43), Rice Miller
made his first recordings
down in Jackson, Mississippi

& widened his mark
with a string of hot singles
on Trumpet Records
between 1951 & 1954
before he moved to Chicago

& signed with Leonard Chess
to record for Checker Records
on an exclusive basis. His recordings
remain today
as if carved from stone,

masterpieces of American music
that will live long beyond
these last days of the 20th century:

“Goin’ down to Rosie’s,
stop at Fannie Mae’s,
gonna tell ol’ Fannie what I heard her
boyfriend say —

Don’t start me to talking,
I’ll tell everything I know;
Gonna break up this signifyin’
‘Cuz somebody's got to go!”

— Maximus & Company,
Birmingham, Michigan
June 21, 1984/
New Orleans
December 14, 1995