Washboard Sam/
ROBERT BROWN

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Hokum blues artist Washboard Sam, real name Robert Brown, was born in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, in 1910. He was the illegitimate son of Frank Broonzy, father of Big Bill Broonzy, making him a half brother to the older blues legend. As well as playing the washboard, he was a fine vocalist and songwriter whose childhood was spent working as a farmhand. He moved to Memphis when he was just into his teens and began playing the street corners in the company of Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon. When he was 22 years old he moved to Chicago and linked up with his half brother, playing the clubs together, with Washboard Sam eventually supporting Broonzy on some of his Bluebird recordings. He was soon supporting a number of artists, including Memphis Slim, and by 1935 he was recording in his own right, with roles reversed as Big Bill Broonzy supported him. For the rest of that decade and until the mid 1940ís his records sold well and he was much in demand. However as music tastes changed and the new electric blues developed, his brand of hokum became out of fashion and he virtually retired from the music business in the early 1950ís. He made a brief return in the 1960ís during the folk/blues revival period, playing mainly in Chicago and even recording again in 1964. However his health was already declining by then and he died of heart disease in Chicago in 1966 aged 56.