Sonny was born in Harrisburg, Arkansas, on September 1, 1933. Sonny joined the US Air Force on December 11, 1950 at the age of seventeen, for a four year hitch.
He began singing and playing the guitar with a band while serving a three year tour overseas in France. Sonny came back to the states in 1954. After his discharge, he returned home and started singing with Memphis based bands.