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Author Topic: Two or Three William Browns?  (Read 5299 times)

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Offline waxwing

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Two or Three William Browns?
« on: September 28, 2004, 01:45:37 PM »
Referring to the Woodshed thread about Ragged and Dirty mentioned in the Shiek Mystique thread, I was a little surprised by Stefan's statement that Ragged and Dirty and Mississippi Blues are by two different William Browns, citing Lomax's notes in the LoC. All brought up today when someone requested R & D on the Juke and, it being Twofer Tuesday, the Juke played MB. I have them, grouped together as always, on the Rounder River of Song series issue Mississippi: The Blues Lineage. They are both listed as recorded on July 16, 1942 at Sadie Beck's Plantation in Arkansas. There are rather extensive notes by our friend David Evans (lets get him back next year, eh?) that clearly credit both recordings to the same individual, quoting heavily from Lomax's memoirs. He also discusses the connection to the Sleepy John Estes version of R & D and states that William's guitar work seems to mimic both Yank's mando and Jab Jones' piano. I particularly like R & D (character flaws aside) because of it's strong chromatic feel. The only note missing from the chromatic scale, in both the melody and guitar arrangement, is the flat second, yet every note is justified. This was a real theory lesson for me. Mississippi Blues is also a gas to sing and play (and for Pyro's enjoyment, I've been playing it on my '67 Martin a lot lately, in spite of Evans' inference that WB seems to be playing a metal guitar). So does anyone have any further info on this? I've actually been toying with the idea of posting a question on the Pre War Blues List to see what David has to say. I think there is possibly another William or Willie Brown recorded by Lomax (not meaning the Pallet recording) that is confusing Stefan, but I don't really want to confront him without harder evidence. I just like to get the facts straight when I intro the songs.
All for now.
John C.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2004, 03:24:20 PM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

  Click to check out my CD, Willie Brown's Liquor, at CDBaby.

Offline frankie

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2004, 01:59:09 PM »
Three - three I say!

Willie Brown - commercially records M&O Blues and Future Blues.

different from

Willie Brown - records Pallet On The Floor for LoC

different from

William Brown - records Ragged and Dirty, Mississippi Blues and East St. Louis Blues for LoC

But the William Brown playing Ragged and Dirty/Mississippi Blues is the same guy to my ears - same guitar, too - a National!

Offline waxwing

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2004, 02:30:44 PM »
Now, I thought it was pretty well accepted that the Willie Brown of the Pallet on The Floor recording was the same Willie Brown of M & O Blues and Future Blues, as reported by Dick Spotswood in the Revenant Patton set? There was over a decade between the recordings so some vocal variation would be expected, but I thought the friendship with Son House was the indication that it was the same Willie Brown.
All for now.
John C
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

  Click to check out my CD, Willie Brown's Liquor, at CDBaby.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2004, 02:31:35 PM »
Hi all,
Gayle Dean Wardlow makes a very convincing case in "Chasing the Devil's Music" that there were two different Willie Browns in the delta around the time Patton recorded and into the 40s.  The case is most convincing to me because it involves different people describing "Willie Brown" as being one of two (and only two) distinctly diferent body types.  And this doesn't even take into consideration the Willie Browns that Lomax recorded.  It is certainly tough to sift through it all at this point.
All best,
Johnm  
« Last Edit: April 06, 2005, 09:48:11 AM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2004, 03:11:15 PM »
Yeah, John, I mentioned Wardlowe's article to David Evans at PT '03 and he assured me that the Willie Brown who recorded with Patton and House , and his own M&O and Future Blues, was the same Willie Brown that was Robert Johnson's "good friend", and that he was a small man about Patton's size. He kinda disparaged Wardlowe as excitable, and I later learned (perhaps here) that they were somewhat competitive in the '60s and '70s. But David did mention an entirely different William Brown who he said was more of a jazz musician. Well, I guess it was a rather common name, eh?
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

  Click to check out my CD, Willie Brown's Liquor, at CDBaby.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2004, 06:05:14 PM »
I don't know what earlier releases containing William Brown's Mississippi Blues and Ragged and Dirty have as far as the dialogue is concerned between Lomax and Brown that accompanies both recordings of Brown's songs, but it is very clear that these songs are by the same person based solely on the speaking voice in the interview portions of the recording. Plus the guitar sounds exactly the same (steel-bodied as Frank points out), they were recorded on the same date at the same place (Sadie Beck's Plantation, Arkansas, July 16, 1942), and the singer is clearly the same person. I think that as JohnM mentions, the confusion between Willie Brown (of Future Blues, M & O, and Charley Patton's accompanist fame) and William Brown (of Ragged and Dirty and Mississippi Blues fame) and the third Willie Brown that Wardlow writes about (a tall, heavier man who may have played with Patton, but not necessarily recorded, and who bears no resemblance to descriptions of Willie "Future Blues" Brown, who was described by many who knew him, as smaller than Patton even, "a little bitty old guy" etc etc), is causing further confusion. The chapter on Willie Brown(s) in Wardlow book is pretty convincing, and he refers to Evans' (at least initial) rejection of the theory. There's definitely a rivalry of some kind between Evans and Wardlow, since similar conflict occurred over the identity of King Solomon Hill. Ed Komara notes in Wardlow's book that Lomax himself contributes to the confusion by at one time writing that he believed William Brown to be the same Willie Brown that recorded earlier with Charlie Patton and also with Son House on the Lof C recordings. Phew.

Wardlow's book, by the way, though oddly written at times, is highly recommended. Fascinating stuff from a dedicated blues detective.

Edited to add: The William Brown recordings I have are on the "Alan Lomax Collection - Deep River of Song - Mississippi: the Blues Lineage; Musical Geniuses of the Fields, Levees and Jukes". How's that for a record title.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2004, 09:30:04 AM by uncle bud »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2004, 06:27:42 PM »
Oh yes, and speaking of character flaws, Frank, yer nuts. ;) Ragged and Dirty is great. Great vocal, great rhythm in the guitar. Here's my character flaw: I actually prefer it to Mississippi Blues.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2004, 06:39:30 PM by uncle bud »

Offline frankie

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2004, 07:22:26 PM »
I actually prefer it to Mississippi Blues.

Me too, actually, if I had to choose.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2004, 10:29:01 PM »
Hi all,
I think one of the things that is tough about making "Mississippi Blues" come alive is that it is so beautifully conceived that there can be a tendency to want to make it "exquisite".  I think that, combined with the fact that it was transcribed very early on has sort of relegated it to a  "set piece purgatory", as kind of the Country Blues version of "Stairway to Heaven".  Of course, it doesn't have to be that way--it's a great piece.  It just seems like it could use a version in which someone newly figured it out by ear, arrived at some different left-hand solutions, missed some of the details and added some new ones of his or her own--I just realized I'm describing the way that John Jackson played it.  Did you ever hear it?  It was great.  Sometimes I think with the absolute warhorses you have a better chance of bringing them to life with a quick and dirty version, not figured out too carefully.  Of course, then you stand the chance of having all the people in the know say, "It doesn't go that way."  Oh well.
All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2004, 10:57:44 PM »
That's interesting, John. I listened to both songs a few times today and decided I was gonna dig deeper into Mississippi Blues because there seems to be a lot more variation going on that I didn't get from some rather extensive tab that claimed to have it's roots in the original transcription by Rory Block. Maybe I wasn't listening to the original enough when I was learning it. For what it's worth, the audiences I play it for, not commonly being pre war blues nuts like us, are usually pretty taken with it. It's still relatively new for me and I really enjoy playing it, too. But adding more nuance will only make it more enjoyable and, as you say, maybe eventually I'll be able to create my own variations.
All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

  Click to check out my CD, Willie Brown's Liquor, at CDBaby.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2004, 11:07:48 PM »
Good for you, John!  I look forward to hearing you play it the next time I see you.  I agree that there is stuff in there that has been missed, and other stuff that wasn't even done waiting to be found. 
All best,
Johnm

Offline Rivers

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2004, 12:52:05 AM »
You probably know this but Lomax's account of the (or 'a') Ragged & Dirty Willie Brown encounter (I seem to recall in Memphis??) is described in The Land Where Blues Began.

Offline frankie

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2004, 05:48:02 AM »
All brought up today when someone requested R & D on the Juke and, it being Twofer Tuesday, the Juke played MB.

Actually, I think I was the one that requested R&D - I actually wanted to hear it back to back with the SJE recording, but since it was twofer Tuesday, a second SJE was inserted between them.  Oh, well.

LoneWolf

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2007, 01:44:49 AM »
You guys mentioned that there were three Willie Browns in the blues world. Sorry about my delay but who is the third?

There is the one who recorded for Paramount Records in 1930 and for Lomax in the early 40's ("Make Me a Pallet on the Floor"), and I assume that you also count WillIAM Brown of the "Mississippi Blues" fame.

And.......?
« Last Edit: December 11, 2007, 07:53:31 AM by LoneWolf »

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #14 on: December 11, 2007, 04:49:42 AM »
Hey 'Wolf:

I'm away from home right now, but the issue of a third Willie Brown is discussed in a chapter of Gayle Dean Wardlow's book "Chasin' That Devil Music" (a must-have read IMHO).

This third Willie Brown was also an associate of Charlie Patton, but taller than the Willie Brown who recorded with Patton, and I gather that this third Willie Brown never made it on to record. I gather this used first name was "William".

I'm sure others will have more info.

Alex

Offline dj

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Re: Two or Three William Browns?
« Reply #15 on: December 11, 2007, 03:24:57 PM »
Alex is correct.  When researchers were working in the Delta in the 1960s, the people they talked to remembered two distinct "Willie" or "Will" Browns playing with Charley Patton. 

The first, who played with Patton in the teens, was tall, "chunky and heavyset", with a "big round face".  He had a good singing voice and sang a lot.  He apparently moved to Memphis and died around 1940.  He never recorded.

The second, who played with Patton in the late 1920s and early 1930s and then with Son House, was also known as "Bill" or "Little Bill".  He was small, about 5 feet four inches in height and weighed "about 135" (pounds).  This Willie Brown preferred playing guitar to singing.  He died in 1952.  This was the man who recorded "M & O Blues" and "Future Blues" and later "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor".

Then, of course, there's the William Brown who recorded "Mississippi Blues", "Ragged and Dirty", and "East St Louis Blues" for the Library of Congress in 1942 and who is not known to be related to the other two.
   

 


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