William Brown - Mississippi Blues
August 30, 2011 12:56 PM   Subscribe

William Brown was a man who recorded a handful of blues on Sadie Beck's Plantation on July 16, 1942 for Alan Lomax. Once thought to be the same man as the Willie Brown who played with Son House and Charley Patton--and was immortalized in Robert Johnson's Crossroad Blues--the consensus now is that William Brown was a different man, about whom we know next to nothing. Certainly, the handful of recordings we have that feature him supports this. The Willie Brown who recorded Future Blues and M & O Blues was an archetypal Delta bluesman, with both songs being stripped down versions of Charley Patton's Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues, among others, and Pony Blues, respectively. The William Brown who recorded Mississippi Blues, Ragged and Dirty and Make Me a Pallet on the Floor plays and sings nothing like that Willie Brown. That we know nothing about him and never heard any more of his music is one of the many tragedies of recorded blues.

Mississippi Blues was tabbed early on by Stefan Grossman, resulting with it being the Stairway to Heaven of Mississippi blues, according to John Miller at Weenie Campbell, and, by a variety of sources, it is a song regarded as one Delta blues everyone must learn.

But, although, recorded in the Delta, it is in fact the least Delta blues of all Delta blues, being based on a piano instrumental, Hard Times by Charlie Spand or , possibly, Sunrise Serenade by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, depending upon who you read. Weenie Campbell's forum leans toward Spand, for what it is worth.

And, as for his Ragged and Dirty, that seems to be based upon Sleepy John Estes Broken Hearted, Ragged and Dirty, Too. Which is a masterpiece in itself.

Whoever, he was, and which song inspired him, Mississippi Blues is a wonder, far more sophisticated and jazzy than anything else Lomax recorded. So, who was William Brown and where did he learn to play like that ? We will likely never know. But, at any rate, almost all of his recorded output can be found at The Roots Music Listening Room Listener's Request page, along with one Worried Life Blues by David Edwards--that is, the late David "Honeyboy" Edwards.

(By the way, because of Willie Blackwell and William Brown'sFour O'Clock Blues, I came to be a grower of Four O'Clock Flowers.)

Tabs for Mississipi Blues can be found at Olav Torvund's Guitar Site and SteveMcWilliams tab section at Acoustic Finger Style. Guitar

On CD, it can be found on the Library of Congress lp Negro Blues and Hollers, reissued by Rounder Records as well as on Document Records' Mississippi Blues & Gospel 1934-1942. Both of which seem to have gone out of print for the time being, alas. So, get thee to a used record store for those. Both are well worth having.
posted by y2karl (15 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
This is a masterclass, y2karl. Thanks!
posted by MinPin at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2011

Nice work. Thanks.
posted by mojohand at 1:31 PM on August 30, 2011

Great post!

No Mississippi Blues! Denied!
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:32 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

We're not worthy!
posted by LarryC at 1:39 PM on August 30, 2011

I'm pretty sure the real Willie Brown was friends with Daniel Larusso.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2011

Now that's what I call a music post!
posted by loquacious at 1:51 PM on August 30, 2011

It is my 500th post and this is my 7900th comment -- all researched, made and posted via dial up, for what it is worth. I must be the last of the dinosaurs.
posted by y2karl at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am not sure which is neater, the dial up or the post. Great post. Love the blues. Much appreciated.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:20 PM on August 30, 2011

y2karl; your posts were one of the reasons I became interested in metafilter; both the music al and the political ones.
Many congratulations on your 500. This post makes me as content as the kitteh in your profile.
Really people if you want to see some outstanding blues posts just look this man's history.
Of all of those great posts I think that this was one was outstanding: Dark was the night.
Many, many thanks and if I ever get to Seattle again the beers are on me.
posted by adamvasco at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2011

Dial up is the Delta Blues of internet connections.
I am donning headphones and wading in, thank you!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 3:17 PM on August 30, 2011

Yes, great post.
posted by OmieWise at 7:04 PM on August 30, 2011

A y2karl music post . . . OMG. Metafilter Old School Style.... Kids, pay attention. This is how it gets done.

This makes my damn week. Thank you so much!
posted by spitbull at 8:26 PM on August 30, 2011

(Favoriting this so hard they'll hear it in the next damn galaxy. )
posted by spitbull at 8:27 PM on August 30, 2011

Hell yes. Excellent post. William Brown was one of the greats.
posted by inkisbetter at 9:15 PM on August 30, 2011

Well, my bad: I jumped to the conclusion that the William Brown not Willie Brown, who, in 1942, recorded East St. Louis Blues, Mississippi Blues and Ragged and Dirty and backed Willie '61' Blackwell on Four O'Clock Blues was the same William Brown who recorded Make Me A Pallet on the Floor. I was wondering about this last night, thinking the latter song is far more ragtime old timey in its tempo and changes than the preceding titles. And I come to find that the by no means universal consensus is that it is Willie Brown who plays and sings the song.

Another odd thought - I always thought Willie '61' Blackwell had it wrong with his four o'clock flowers, having them open in the morning and close in the afternoon. The standard description of them has them doing exactly the opposite: staying closed in the morning and opening in the afternoon. I wrote it down to poetic license. But just today, when I looked at mine this morning, they were open and yey they were closed yesterday afternoon.

So, now I am somewhere between confused and bemused on both matters.
posted by y2karl at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2011

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