The Chicago Blues of Washboard Sam

Publisher: Agram Blues Books

Product Details:

  • Format:                   Hardback
  • Publication Date:    February 2023
  • Price:                       €35 / €40 CD Included
  • Publisher:                Agram Blues Books

Robert Brown, who called himself Washboard Sam, was the only player of his makeshift instrument to become a star in the blues world. Nevertheless, he is a neglected artist, and many blues lovers still underestimate him. This is mainly due to The Country Blues, published in 1959, in which Samuel B. Charters coined “the Bluebird Beat” as a catch-all term for the content of that label’s blues records. Charters did so because he considered the label’s output to have been “with few exceptions, a stereotyped product” where it was “almost impossible to tell one singer from another.” His exceptions – grudgingly made, one feels – include Washboard Sam (“fairly distinctive”), and Big Bill’s “warmth and personality,” but the Bluebird label had been thoroughly stigmatized and more than sixty years later many people still wrongly consider Bluebird to be synonymous with musical boredom.2

Like Washboard Sam’s original audience, Charters was evaluating him by listening to 78s; there were no LPs of his music in the 1950s, and the CDs which could hold an hour or more of it were far in the future. It is obvious that African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s took a quite different and much more enthusiastic view of Washboard Sam: he made no fewer than 151 recordings, most of them issued, in a little over seven years, between April 1935 and July 1942. (There would be another 36 between 1947 and 1964, but musical fashions had changed, and they are the long tail-end of what had been a highly successful career.)

Booker T. “Bukka” White, whom Sam accompanied on records in 1940, reacted to his music in a way that was no doubt similar to the response of the many people who bought his records or summoned them with a nickel in the jukebox:

Memphis Minnie, Washboard Sam, Tampa Red, Big Bill, they were my favorite ’cause they really would knock the cover off a house. They play in the nightclubs, would play house parties through the day.

This book tries to explore their response in more detail by considering Sam’s original lyrics, his powerful voice, and the tremendous swing that he generated with seven thimbles and a washboard.


01. C-1059-A                       Mama Don’t Allow No. 2                             Vocalion 03375

02. 100315-1                       You Done Tore Your Playhouse Down         Bluebird B-6355

03. 100940-1                       Give Me Lovin’                                             Bluebird B-6518

04. 01884-1                         Come On In                                                   Bluebird B-6870

05. 01885-1                         Big Woman                                                    Bluebird B-6870

06. 07620-1                         Lowland Blues                                               Bluebird B-7096

07. 020146-1                       It’s Too Late Now                                           Bluebird B-7664

08. 020148-1                       Down At The Old Village Store                      Bluebird B-7526

09. 020149-1                       The Gal I Love                                                Bluebird B-7655

10. 020813-1                       I’m Gonna Keep My Hair Parted                    Bluebird B-7732

11. 030815-1                       Walkin’ In My Sleep                                        Bluebird B-7977

12. 034793-1                       Booker T Blues                                                Bluebird B-8211

13. 049040-1                       She Fooled Me                                                 Bluebird B-8450

14. 049042-1                       Beale Street Sheik                                            Bluebird B-8500

15. 049344-1                       Good Time Tonight                                           Bluebird B-8644

16. 059128-1                       Come On Back                                                  Bluebird B-8699

17. 064484-1                       She Belongs To The Devil                                Bluebird B-8937

18. 074686-1                       I Laid My Cards On The Table                       Bluebird 34-0710

19. D9VB 388                     No. 1 Drunkard                                                 RCA Victor 22-0017

20. D9VB 2000                   Motherless Child Blues                                     RCA Victor 22-0090

21. D9VB 2001                   Gamblin’ Man                                                    RCA Victor 22-0090

22. U-7512                           Bright Eyes                                                         Chess 1545

23. U-7513                           Diggin’ My Potatoes                                         Chess 1545

24.                                        I’m Gonna Hit This Old Highway                  Jefferson unissued