Listen to this song from 1937 by bluesman and harmonica pioneer Sonny Boy Williamson I, “Good Morning Little School Girl”. The song was a monster, a blues standard subsequently recorded by artists ranging from fellow bluesmen John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins, to blues and R&B revival bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Yardbirds, to rock acts like the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and Van Morrison, among many, many others.
This song was recorded by the first bluesman to carry the ‘Sonny Boy Williamson’ moniker, John Lee Curtis Williamson, who was a blues harp (that’s blues lingo for ‘harmonica’, of course) player from Jackson, Tennessee, the same Jackson that Johnny Cash and June Carter sang about, and birthplace of first wave rock ‘n’ roll figure Carl Perkins. And this was his first and biggest hit, making a wave on the R&B scene for decades after it was initially recorded in this rural, folk-blues style.
A second bluesman, Rice Miller, would take up the name Sonny Boy Williamson (known later as “Sonny Boy Williamson II”) post world war II, and carry it after the first Williamson died in 1948. But, “Good Morning Little School Girl” would remain in the blues lexicon for good, with the original Williamson’s style changing the way blues harp was played forevermore by everyone. Blues harmonica players like Little Walter, Sonny Terry, and even non-harp players like Muddy Waters, would be fundamentally influenced by this track, and by Williamson’s work in general.
The song itself changed quite a bit lyrically over the decades, but the basic intent is the same. The narrator is obsessed with an object of lust forever out of reach, yet the obsession remains. This of course is a common theme in the blues which would carry over into R&B, rock n’ roll, and in soul music too. This tune may in fact be one of the earliest templates of this form. If Sonny Boy Williamson’s take on it seems restrained by modern standards, you might want to take a listen to the more up-to-date version by Buddy Guy who underscores the point a little bit more overtly just by the sheer power of his delivery.
This tune might seem a bit suspect by today’s standards in terms of theme. But, I don’t think this song is ultimately about anything deviant. I think this is more about a feeling that love, or lust for that matter, happens to do to someone when an object of affection is out of reach. That is, it reduces things to a very basic level, where all adult thinking is thrown out the window in favour of the fantasy. In the Paul Butterfield version, the lyrics are “you can tell your momma and poppa I’m a little school boy too”. And in a sense, he is. The primal urge has stripped him of his adulthood in this song, even if the object of his lust isn’t necessarily a literal school girl.
And such I think is the power of the blues; to boil things down to their basics, for good or for ill.