Washboard Willie

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Washboard Willie
Washboard Willie.jpg
Background information
Birth name William Paden Hensley
Born (1906-07-24)July 24, 1906 or 1909
Bullock County, Alabama or Columbus, Georgia, United States
Died August 24, 1991(1991-08-24) (age 82 or 85)
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Genres Detroit blues
Occupation(s) Singer, washboard player
Instruments Vocals, washboard, harmonica, drums
Years active 1952–1979

William Paden Hensley (July 24, 1906[1] or 1909 – August 24, 1991),[2] known as Washboard Willie, was an American Detroit blues musician, who specialised in playing the washboard. He recorded tracks including "A Fool on a Mule in the Middle of The Road" plus "Cherry Red Blues", and worked variously with Eddie "Guitar" Burns, Baby Boy Warren, and Boogie Woogie Red.[2]


Hensley was born either in Bullock County, Alabama, in 1906,[1] or in Columbus, Georgia, in 1909.[2] "Washboard Willie", as he became known, did not take up music until his thirties. By 1948 he had relocated to Detroit,[3] and in 1952, he watched Eddie "Guitar" Burns performing and played along with Burns' backing group. He impressed the proprietor and ended up with a three-year residency with the band.[4]

Working full-time washing cars for a living, he decided to name his own musical ensemble, Washboard Willie and the Super Suds of Rhythm, working off of the name of a once-popular laundry detergent![4][5] He graduated from just playing the washboard to incorporate a bass drum and snare and, in 1955, gave Little Sonny his first booking.[4] In 1956, Hensley made his own debut recording of "Cherry Red Blues," with "Washboard Shuffle;" and then "Washboard Blues Pt. 1 & 2."[6] His recording career continued until 1962 utilising Boogie Woogie Red on piano accompaniment. The recordings were not issued until 1969 on Barrelhouse Records. However, in 1966, Willie did release a single with the tracks "Natural Born Lover," and "Wee Baby Blues." His band remained in demand playing nightly in both Detroit and Ann Arbor.[4]

In 1973, he toured Europe with Lightnin' Slim, Whispering Smith, Snooky Pryor, Homesick James and Boogie Woogie Red; he also played at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival that year on the Saturday afternoon "Detroit Blues" show. A compilation album, American Blues Legends '73 was issued on Big Bear Records with Willie contributing the tracks, "I Feel So Fine" and "Kansas City."[4][6] Six years later he stopped playing professionally.[4]

He died in Detroit in August 1991.[1][2]

Recent discography[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 88. ISBN 978-0313344237. 
  2. ^ a b c d Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1990 – 1991". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  3. ^ Oliver, Paul (1998). The Story of the Blues (1st ed.). Michigan: Northeastern University Press. p. 179. ISBN 1-55553-355-8. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Reif, Fred. "Washboard Willie". Allmusic. Retrieved February 11, 2010. 
  5. ^ Oliver, Paul (1997). Conversation with the Blues (2nd ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 172. ISBN 0-521-59181-3. 
  6. ^ a b "Washboard Willie discography". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  7. ^ "Motor Town Boogie – Washboard Willie | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. March 19, 2007. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 

External links[edit]