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Juke Boy Bonner biography


Weldon H. Philip Bonner, better known as Juke Boy Bonner (22 March 1932 — 29 June 1978) was an American blues singer, harmonica player, and guitarist. He was influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, and Slim Harpo. He described the bleak prospects of black urban existence in songs like Life is a Nightmare, Struggle Here in Houston and Going Back to the Country, accompanying himself on guitar, harmonica and drums in the self sufficient one-man band mode of Joe Hill Louis and Dr. Ross. Born in Bellville, Texas, Bonner was one of nine children; his parents died while he was very young, and he was raised by a neighbour’s family, and later, 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, as he frequently sang in local bars accompanied by the juke box. 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, 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 Forward Times weekly newspaper. 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. 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 died in his apartment in 1978, aged forty-six, of cirrhosis of the liver.

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  Juke Boy Bonner