Monday, 22 April 2013

The Mystery Of Willie Brown

           Of the utterly fascinating and almost legendary folklore of Mississippi Delta blues, few unsolved mysteries of this music's history are as intriguing as that of Mr. Willie Brown. Whether it's the bizarre disappearance of the c. 1930 Willie Brown's recordings that were apparently destroyed in a fire or otherwise lost (of which only two recordings survive) or merely who was Willie Brown, it's one of those magical (lost) puzzle pieces that truly makes this music more than just notes on a guitar.

           After years of research and conversation between blues historians, it is still generally opined that there were either two or three Willie Browns. One that recorded Mississippi Blues with Alan Lomax (who was certainly separate from the Willie Brown who hung around with Patton and House), one that recorded M & O and Future Blues, and POSSIBLY one more who recorded Make Me A Pallet On the Floor in the 40's. In my opinion, the Willie Brown who recorded Pallet and Future blues were the same. I admit, I haven't done the research; however, I've come to this conclusion based on the study of the guitar phrasing. In my tutorial on Make Me A Pallet On the Floor, I do say that the phrasing on M & O and Pallet have certain commonalities in note-choices, positioning, and tone that have led me to this perspective.

             Just because I find this topic so exciting, here's a little more food for thought that I dug up. Here, the all-knowing Gayle Dean Wardlow (originally posted on WeenieCampbell) expresses his highly respectable opinion that, indeed, the Willie Brown of Pallet on the Floor and Future Blues were the same:

       "MY opinion is the the Willie Brown who recorded in 1941 for Lomax at Lake Comorant is the SAME one who recorded with House in 1930 for PM. They played together for about 12 years and Willie Moore said he was also suppose to be there that same day as House/Brown and Joe Martin to record but had to work for his bossman. He said they recorded at the Dago man's store (Clack's Store ). The one who recorded for Lomax in Arkansas at Sadie Beck's Plantation is a totally different style of playing/singing from Little Willie Brown. Thus there were three Browns playing guitar in the Delta in the Dockery's region and probably even more..It is a very common name.
             So I invite Brown followers to listen to the Wardlow interview at MTSU on line and make their own judgments. You can also go to "Chasin' That Devil Music" which reprinted the 1987 BU article of the Two Willie Browns.

         The Willie Brown in 1941 does sound different in playing style than 1930 but so? He simply could have kept up with different styles of playing or had the ability to play in that style in 1930 but we only have 2 sides from PM to go by. Also House said Brown only played one song in Spanish tuning "Future Blues" and the rest in natural or regular guitar tuning which "M @ O Blues" is played in. Brown also was known as a musician who preferred to play behind a singer--thus chord a lot and not sing which puts his style of playing into a different approach. "Make Me A Pallet down On The Floor" is a very old tune, almost pre-blues that Brown could have played in 1930 but it was not a commercial song to record for PM.

          Finally, Willie Brown is such a common name.. who knows how many Willie Browns played guitar in the upper delta in the 1900s-40s. No way to judge but a census check reveals many Willie or Will Browns in the Delta as Randy has noted. They are everywhere. I hope this sheds some light on the Browns and forum followers will access the MTSU (Middle tennessee state University Center for Popular Culture) interviews to gain more background. gdw"

Endlessly interesting stuff...


  1. Thank you. I have been thinking about this subject for many years. Ah. But this post has me confused. The Willie thay recorded Future and M and O Blues is the Willie that Hung out with Patton and House? Lyrics are similar from the general area and passed down as very common from an area to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and their are documentated conersations from Son House that Future and M and O Blues are his best buddy Willie Brown's. And is not Robert Johnson's Crossroads lryics enough to show that? Thank you for your posts!!! Cordially Anthony

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