Juke Boy Bonner
Weldon H. Philip Bonner, better known as Juke Boy Bonner (March 22, 1932 – June 29, 1978) was an American blues singer, harmonica player, and guitarist. He was influenced by Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, and Slim Harpo. He accompanied himself on guitar, harmonica, and drums in songs such as "Going Back to the Country", "Life is a Nightmare", and "Struggle Here in Houston".
Born in Bellville, Texas,:47 Bonner was one of nine children; his parents died while he was very young. Raised by a neighbor's family, he moved in with his older sister in 1945. At the age of twelve he taught himself the guitar. He gained the nickname "Juke Boy" as a youth, because he frequently sang in local juke joints.:47 Starting a musical career as teenager, he won the first prize at local disc jockey Trummie Cain's weekly talent show at the Lincoln Theater in Houston, Texas in 1948. Through this he secured a 15 minute radio slot on a show operated by record retailer Henry Atlas. After having three children with his wife, she left him to look after the children by himself.
Between 1954 and 1957, he recorded several singles for the Oakland, California based Irma record label,:48 but not all were released at the time. In 1960 he recorded again, this time for the Goldband Records, Storyville Records, and Jan & Dill Records labels. In 1963 he was diagnosed with a large stomach ulcer, and had to have almost half of his stomach removed in surgery. The shock of this operation, plus the social climate of the times (which included civil rights riots and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy) led Bonner to begin writing poetry, some of which was published in the Houston Forward Times weekly newspaper.:50 Recovering from surgery, Bonner worked as an RCA record distributor in Houston. Once his strength returned he began playing gigs again in the local area.
In 1967, Bonner recorded his first album for the Flyright label. Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label released two albums, I'm Going Back to The Country (1968) and The Struggle (1969) (Arhoolie would later issue some of Bonner's unreleased 1967-1974 recordings on 2003's Ghetto Poet). Bonner recorded mostly original song material through his recording career. He was a guest at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, the American Folk Blues Festival, and the Montreux Blues and Rock Festival.:51 Bonner toured Europe in 1969 with Clifton Chenier and Magic Sam.:51
In 1972, he released an LP for Sonet Records, and in 1975 another one for the Houston based Home Cooking Records label. However, Bonner was not able to support himself from his music, due to little demand for his work. Although he would continue to play and record sporadically, he had no choice but to take a minimum wage job at a chicken processing plant in Houston.
Bonner's last performance was at a Juneteenth festival at Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre.:51 Less than two weeks later, on June 29, 1978,:51 he died in his apartment, aged forty-six, of cirrhosis of the liver.
- Allmusic biography
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 94. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Lorenzo Thomas (2008). Don't Deny My Name: Words and Music and the Black Intellectual Tradition. University of Michigan Press. pp. 47–52. ISBN 0-472-06892-X.
- Illustrated Juke Boy Bonner discography
- Bonner biography at Allmusic website
- Arhoolie Records discography
- Sheldon Harris. Blues Who's Who
- Strachwitz, Chris & Skoog, Larry. (1968, 1992). Life Gave Me A Dirty Deal Audio CD (Liner notes). Arhoolie CD375.