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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Willie Brown

Willie Lee Brown, b. August 6, 1900 in Clarksdale, MS, d. December 30, 1952 in Tunica, MS, blues guitar player and vocalist. He performed and recorded with other notable blues musicians, including Son House and Charlie Patton, and was an influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Brown is considered one of the pioneering musicians of the Delta blues genre. Brown was best known as a side player, performing mostly with House, Patton, and Johnson. He recorded four sides for Paramount Records in Grafton, Wisconsin, in 1930, which were subsequently released on 78-rpm discs. He made three recordings for the Library of Congress in 1941, accompanied by House. In 1952, Brown briefly joined House in Rochester, New York, but soon returned to Tunica, Mississippi, where he died the same year. Although known mostly as an accompanist rather than a soloist, Brown recorded three highly rated solo performances: "M & O Blues," "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor," and "Future Blues". He disappeared from the music scene during the 1940s, together with House, and died before the blues revival of the 1960s.

Brown was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1900. He learned to play the guitar as a teenager. He played with such notables as Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson. He was not a self-promoting frontman, preferring to "second" other musicians. Little is known for certain about the man whom Johnson called "my friend Willie Brown" (in his "Cross Road Blues") and whom Johnson once indicated should be notified in event of his death. Brown played with Patton on "M & O Blues" and "Future Blues", recorded for Paramount Records in 1930. Both songs appear on the album Son House & the Great Delta Blues Singers 1928–1920 (Document Records, 1994) and are also included in JSP's box set of Patton's recordings. At least four other songs Brown recorded for Paramount have never been found. It has been said that Brown played with other musicians, in addition to House and Patton, including Luke Thomson and Thomas "Clubfoot" Coles. There has been speculation and some dispute about whether Brown played backup on "Rowdy Blues", a 1929 song credited to Kid Bailey, or recorded it himself using the name of Kid Bailey. The musicologist David Evans reconstructed the early biography of a Willie Brown living in Drew, Mississippi, until 1929. He was married by 1911, when he was 10 or 11, to a proficient guitarist named Josie Mills. He is recalled as singing and playing guitar with Patton and others in the neighborhood of Drew. Informants with conflicting memories led Gayle Dean Wardlow and Steve Calt to conclude that this was a different Willie Brown. Evans rejected this conclusion, believing that the singing and guitar style of the 1931 recordings is in the tradition of other performers from Drew, such as Patton, Tommy Johnson, Kid Bailey, Howlin' Wolf and artists not commercially recorded. Alan Lomax, writing 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 seemed to have forgotten that he had actually recorded Brown the previous summer with Son House, Fiddlin' Joe Martin and Leroy Williams. Brown played second guitar on three performances by the group and recorded one solo, "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor". Willie Brown also played "Ragged & Dirty". According to Lomax, After Willie played Ragged & Dirty for him, Willie Brown quoted, "That's the blues, that's the Delta blues." 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 died of heart disease in Tunica, Mississippi, in 1952, at the age of 52.


Willie Brown Biography by Jason Ankeny

One of the most influential of the early Delta blues guitarists, Willie Brown was arguably the quintessential accompanist of his era, most notably backing legends including Charley Patton and Son House. Born August 6, 1900 in Clarksdale, MS, Brown was an affecting singer and an extraordinary guitarist, but spent the vast majority of his career as a sideman, with his ability to "second" other players much celebrated among his peers. In addition to performing alongside Robert Johnson, he appeared on many of the seminal sides cut by Patton between 1929 and 1934, including a legendary 1930 Paramount label session that also yielded two of the three existing Brown solo cuts, "M & O Blues" and "Future Blues," as well as material with barrelhouse pianist Louise Johnson. His final solo performance, "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor," originated from a 1941 Alan Lomax Library of Congress field recording; during the same session, Brown also backed Son House. (With regard to Brown's own discography, it should be noted that among blues scholars there is some debate over the origins of a 1929 track called "Rowdy Blues"; credited to one Kid Bailey, it's believed in some quarters that it is in fact Brown under an assumed name, while others contend that he merely played second guitar on the date instead.) Little to nothing is known of Brown's later years, and he died in Tunica, MS on December 30, 1952.