Song Lyric Sunday/Song of the Day: Sonny Boy Williamson II, “Nine Below Zero”

Today’s Song Lyric Sunday prompt from Jim is “above, between, below,” which sends me back to the South Side to get another blues player, Aleck “Rice” Miller. In 1941, Miller was hired to play for the King Biscuit Time show that was broadcast on KFFA radio (1360 AM) in Helena, Arkansas (which, from what I understand, is still running), sponsored by Interstate Grocer Company, distributor of King Biscuit Flour. Max Moore, head of Interstate, started to bill Miller as Sonny Boy Williamson, even though the real Sonny Boy was playing in Chicago at the time. It’s customary to refer to Miller as Sonny Boy Williamson II to distinguish between the two.

Anyway, he wrote “Nine Below Zero,” which has since been done by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf (who was Sonny Boy’s brother-in-law) and others over the years. Sonny Boy recorded the song twice, once in 1951 as the B side of “Mighty Long Time” on Trumpet Records, then again in 1962 as the flip side of “One Way Out” (later done by The Allman Brothers Band) for Checker Records (a subsidiary of legendary blues label Chess Records). This is a live performance that’s introduced by Memphis Slim, who introduces Otis Spann, Muddy Waters’s longtime piano player. The others playing with Williamson and Spann are Willie Dixon on bass, Matt “Guitar” Murphy on guitar (imagine that!), and I’m not sure, but I believe that’s Fred Below (appropriately enough) on drums.

The lyrics are from AZLyrics:

Ain’t this a pity, people ain’t this a cryin’ shame
Ain’t this a pity, people ain’t this a cryin’ shame
Well you know it’s nine below zero, she put me down for another man

Gave her all of my money, all of my love and everything
I gave her all of my money, all of my love and everything
Nine below zero, she put me down for another man

She lied to me, she didn’t tell me everything
She lied to me, the woman didn’t tell me everything
Well you know its nine below zero cousin, she put me down for another man

Ain’t this a pity, people ain’t this a cryin’ shame
Ain’t this a pity, people ain’t this a cryin’ shame
It’s nine below zero, she put me down for another man

I’m gonna retire on the delta, layin’ out there in the fallin’ rain
I’m gonna retire on the delta, layin’ out there in the fallin’ rain
You know it’s nine below zero people, and my love don’t mean a thing

And that’s Song Lyric Sunday and Song of the Day for August 23, 2020.

21 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday/Song of the Day: Sonny Boy Williamson II, “Nine Below Zero”

  1. Absolutely love this song. Excellent choice! One of the best parts of #SLS is being introduced to new stuff. B just peeked his head around the corner and said turn it up πŸ™‚ John you are a master at this challenge.

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    1. He does some things that are unusual. He occasionally flips the harmonica over, so that the high notes are on the left side, in the middle of playing. His hands are so big you can’t see him do it.

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