Willie Brown

Willie Brown
August 6, 1900 – December 30, 1952

[No known photograph exists]

Born in Clarkdale, Mississippi, Willie Brown (not to be confused with the blues guitarist William Brown from Arkansas) was among the earliest blues musicians, a talented guitarist and singer whose playing had a tremendous influence on the development of Delta Blues. His heavy driving, passionate and powerful yet intricate playing style helped lay the foundation for later generations of players like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Brown wasn’t the most prolific writer; he’s thought to have written very few songs. Only three solo recordings are known to exist, M&O Blues, Future Blues, and Make Me up a Pallet on your Floor. Its been debated that Rowdy Blues by Kid Bailey is Brown playing under a pseudonym, while others maintain he was on the recording but playing accompaniment. He much preferred playing as a sideman for other musicians and was in high demand as an accompanist. Some of his more notable partners were Charlie Patton and Son House.

Very little is known of his later years. He continued playing with Son House until his death at age 52 in Tunica, Mississippi. It was at this time Son House stopped playing completely until he was rediscovered years later.

His name was immortalized in the Robert Johnson song ‘Crossroads.’

You can run, you can run, tell my friend Willie Brown
You can run, you can run, tell my friend Willie Brown
I got the crossroad blues this mornin’ Lord,
babe, I’m sinkin down

Recommended Listening:

Friends of Charlie Patton

This is a fantastic compilation put together by Yazoo Records containing two of his three solo performances and showcasing many friends and contemporaries including; Son House, Bukka White, the infamous aforementioned Kid Bailey, Tommy Johnson, Louise Johnson, Ishman Bracey and Bertha Lee. Yazoo puts out some of the best compilations going, unfortunately a lot of their earlier releases sound like they were taken straight from the old 78’s and plopped on CD with very little remastering. This means hisses, pops, and noisy recordings. On the other hand, where else are you going to hear this stuff?

As an Accompanist:

Primeval Blues, Rags and Gospel Songs, Charlie Patton
Home

King of the Delta Blues, Son House
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For Further Study:

Delta Blues, Book by Stefan Grossman


Delta Blues Guitar, Book and CD by Stefan Grossman

101 Mississippi Delta Blues Fingerpicking Licks, by Larry McCabe

Blues From The Delta, by William Ferris

Trivia:

In the 1986 movie Crossroads, Ralph Macchio’s search for a missing Robert Johnson song turns up an aged Willie Johnson played by Joe Seneca. Together they embark on an adventure down to the delta. A goofy but enjoyable movie.

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