Willie Brown (musician)
Brown's grave at Shepard Church, Prichard, Mississippi.
|Birth name||Willie Lee Brown|
August 6, 1900|
Clarksdale, Mississippi, United States
|Died||December 30, 1952
Tunica, Mississippi, United States
|Genres||Delta blues, country blues|
Willie Lee Brown (August 6, 1900 – December 30, 1952) was an American blues guitar player and vocalist. He partnered with other notable blues musicians such as Son House and Charlie Patton, and had a great influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Brown is considered one of the main pioneering musicians of the Delta blues genre.
Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he learned the guitar as a teenager. During his music career he was best known as a side player performing mostly with bluesmen Son House, Charlie Patton, and Robert Johnson. He had recorded four sides for Paramount Records in Grafton, Wisconsin in the 1930s, which were subsequently released on 78rpm discs. The second time he recorded was with Son House accompanying him in three 1941 Library of Congress recordings. Brown briefly joined House in 1952 in Rochester, New York, but soon returned to Tunica, Mississippi where he died the same year.
He was mostly known as an accompanist rather than a soloist, although he did record three high rated solo performances. His recorded songs were "M & O Blues," "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor," and "Future Blues". He disappeared from the music scene during the 1940s together with Son House, and died before the first blues revival started.
Life and career
Born Willie Lee Brown in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Brown played with such notables as Charley Patton and Robert Johnson. He was not known to be a self-promoting frontman, preferring to "second" other musicians. Little is known for certain of the man whom Robert Johnson called "You can run, you can run, tell my friend Willie Brown" (in his "Cross Road Blues") and whom Johnson once indicated should be notified in event of his death. In an alternate take of the song, Johnson introduced a Neologism with "tell my friend boy Willie Brown." Brown is heard with Patton on the Paramount 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 including 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. Both "M & O Blues" and "Future Blues" appear on the album Son House & The Great Delta Blues Singers (1994), recorded between 1928 and 1930, on the Document Records label. They also appear on JSP's Charlie Patton box set.
David Evans has reconstructed the early biography of a Willie Brown living in Drew, Mississippi, until 1929. He was married by 1911, meaning he was 10 or 11, 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 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.
Brown recorded six sides at a 1930 recording session in Grafton, WI. They were released on three 78 r.p.m. shellac discs of which only one has been found.
- Paramount 13001 "Grandma Blues" / "Sorry Blues" (no copy has been found yet)
- Paramount 13090 "M & O Blues" / "Future Blues" (only three copies of this disc are known to exist today)
- Paramount 13099 "Window Blues" / "Kicking In My Sleep Blues" (no copy has been found yet)
- Library of Congress Recordings by Lomax "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor"
- Doc Rock. "The 50s and earlier". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
- "The Blues. The Songs and the Artists". PBS. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
- Stefan Grossman (2007). Delta Blues Guitar. Alfred Music Publishing. p. 16. ISBN 0739042807.
- "Robert Johnson Biography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 61. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Jason Ankeny (1952-12-30). "Willie Brown | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
- [dead link]
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 211. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Evans, David. Big Road Blues. Tradition & Creativity in the Folk Blues. Da Capo (1982). ISBN 0-306-80300-3
- Wardlow, Gayle Dean. Chasin' that Devil Music. Searching for the Blues. Miller Freeman Books (1998). ISBN 0-87930-552-5
- Lomax, Alan. The Land Where the Blues Began. Methuen (1993). ISBN 0-413-67850-4
- "Cross Road Blues" lyrics
- Works by or about Willie Brown in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Illustrated Willie Brown discography