Posts Tagged ‘Willie Brown’

Born: August 6, 1900, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Died: December 30, 1952, Tunica, Mississippi

Little is known for certain of the man whom Robert Johnson called “my friend-boy, Willie Brown” (in his prophetic “Cross Road Blues”) and whom Johnson indicated should be notified in event of his death.

Willie Brown was an outstanding guitarist as well as vocalist who had an enormous influence on the origination and development of Delta blues.  Thats right, he was not Robert Johnson’s harmonica playing partner as suggested in the movie “Crossroads”!  Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Brown did, play with such notables as Charley Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson, but he played guitar not harmonica.  He was not known to be a self-promoting frontman, preferring to “second” (accompany) other musicians.  Brown can be heard with Charley Patton on the Paramount label sessions of 1930, playing “M & O Blues,” and “Future Blues.”   Apart from playing with Son House and Charlie Patton it has also been said that he played with artists such as Luke Thomson and Thomas “Clubfoot” Coles.  At least four other songs he recorded for Paramount have never been found.  “Rowdy Blues”, a 1929 song credited to Kid Bailey, is disputed to have Brown on backup, or Brown himself using the name of Kid Bailey.

David Evans has reconstructed the early biography of a Willie Brown living in Drew, Mississippi, until 1929. He was married by 1911 to a proficient guitarist named Josie Mills. He is recalled as singing and playing guitar with Charley Patton and others in the neighbourhood of Drew.  Informants with conflicting memories led Gayle Dean Wardlow and Steve Calt to conclude that this was a different Willie Brown.   Evans, however, rejects this, believing that the singing and guitar style of the 1931 recordings is clearly in the tradition of other performers from Drew such as Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, Kid Bailey, Howling Wolf and artists recorded non-commercially.

Alan Lomax added further confusion in 1993, suggesting that the William Brown he recorded in Arkansas in 1942 was the same man as the Paramount artist.  The recording was for a joint project between Fisk University and the Library of Congress documenting the music of Coahoma County, Mississippi in 1941 and 1942.  Writing over fifty years later, Lomax forgot that he had actually recorded Willie the previous summer with Son House, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin and Leroy Williams.   Brown played second guitar on three performances by the whole band, and recorded one solo, “Make Me A Pallet On The Floor”.

The later biography is clear. Willie Brown, the Paramount artist, lived in Robinsonville, Mississippi from 1929 and moved to Lake Cormorant, Mississippi by 1935.   He performed occasionally with Charley Patton, and continually with Son House until his death. After this, House ceased performing until his “rediscovery” in 1964.  Sadly, Brown died before the blues revival of the 1960s, when many of his contemporaries were rediscovered by blues scholars.