Born: March 22, 1932 | Died: June 29, 1978 Primary Instrument: Guitar, electric
Coming out of Bellville, Texas, Weldon “Juke Boy” Bonner recorded some tough raw blues accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. Bonner was schooled in the sounds of Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimmy Reedn and played a rack harp and often performed as a one-man band adding cymbals and/or drums to his act.
Like many rural blues singers, Bonner’s first musical experiences were in singing spirituals as a child. He took up the guitar when he was about 13 years old and began to build up his experience following a move to Houston a few years later where he won a talent contest that led to a radio gig and local exposure. He journeyed to Oakland in 1956, cutting his debut single for producer Bob Geddin’s Irma label (as Juke Boy Barner) before signing on to Goldband Records in 1960, where he was billed as the One Man Trio.
Following this, his musical activity was based entirely around Houston for a few years, until other titles from the Goldband sessions were issued on an album on the Storyville label in Europe. He spent a lot of time writing poetry, which was published in a Houston newspaper; he would then put these to music and came up with quite an impressive repertoire of songs. The interest this generated led to further recordings, and albums on Arhoolie in the USA consolidated his reputation. His recordings for Arhoolie, a collection of recordings made between 1967 and 1969 brings together some of Juke Boy Bonner's best poems put to music. These are available as “Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal.”
In 1969 Bonner visited Europe. His ability to compose topical blues with thoughtful and imaginative lyrics, coupled with an expressive vocal style and self-contained instrumental accompaniments, made him highly popular with his new audience, and many tours and new recordings resulted, including a gig at the ’75 Montreux Jazz Festival. Unfortunately, his success was to be short-lived, and he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1978.
Source: James Nadal