Weldon Philip H. (Juke Boy) Bonner, blues guitarist, vocalist, and harmonica player, was born in Bellville, Texas, on March 22, 1932, one of nine children of sharecroppers Emanuel and Carrie (Kessee) Bonner. His parents died when he was young, so he was raised by another family on a nearby farm. Bonner became interested in music when he was six and sang with a local spiritual group when he was in elementary school. By the time he was twelve he had taught himself to play the guitar. He quit school when he was a teenager and moved to Houston to find a job. When he was fifteen he won a talent contest held by Trummy Cain, a local talent coordinator. This led to an appearance on KLEE radio.
For the next decade Bonner worked as a one-man band in lounges, bars, and clubs throughout the South and in California. He frequently worked in juke joints accompanied only by jukebox music; hence his nickname. In 1956 he cut his first record, "Rock Me Baby," with "Well Baby" as the flip side, on Bob Geddins's Irma label. Bonner made his next record for Goldband Records in 1960 and continued to record for Liberty, Sonet, and other labels during the 1960s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he toured Europe, where he recorded on the British Flyright and Storyville labels. His best work, however, came in the late 1960s on the Arhoolie label. Songs such as "Going Back to the Country," "Struggle Here in Houston," and "Life Is a Nightmare" reflected his impoverished youth and the dangers he had faced living in big cities. Bonner continued to tour, work local venues, and record. He was married in 1950 and was later divorced. He died in Houston on June 29, 1978, of cirrhosis of the liver. Five children survived him.
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Michael Erlewine et al., ed., AMG All Music Guide to the Blues (San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1996; 2d ed., San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1999). Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Colin Larkin, ed., The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (New York: Guinness, 1995). Frank Scott, The Down Home Guide to the Blues (Chicago: A Cappella,1991).
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Bonner, Weldon Philip H. [Juke Boy],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 29, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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