Back at the start of the 20th Century, when the original Blues music was born out of the hard life of rural African-American workers, travelling shows, circuses, tent-show revues and ‘medicine shows’ were a common sight in the South. They all had musicians as part of their entertainment, and these ‘wandering songsters’ spread the new and distinctive musical form of Blues from the Delta to Texas; from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic; and up the Mississippi to America’s heartland. It may be hard to believe, but there were still ‘medicine shows’ plying their trade in the post WWII era. Some had Blues musicians with them who had lived this life for decades, and ‘Pink’ Anderson was a prime example of the breed.
Pinkney Anderson was born in 1900 near Spartanburg SC and at the age of 14 was playing guitar to entertain the folks who came to buy Dr. Kerr’s ‘cure-all medicine’. He teamed up with a blind guitarist called Simmie Dooley, and they were soon playing on street-corners all over the Carolinas as they followed the ‘medicine show’. They worked up a huge repertoire of Folk, Piedmont-style Blues and Ragtime songs as they both sang their way around the South, and their double act was captured on disc by a field unit in Atlanta in April 1928. All four vocal and guitar duets were released by Columbia Records, and somebody’s singing voice sounds uncannily like Bob Dylan!
Pink & Simmie with ‘Every day of the Week Blues’ from 1928;
Pink Anderson Discography
With the excellent ‘Carolina Blues Man’ and ‘Blues and Folk Singer’, this trilogy shows the scope of Pink’s repertoire.’Medicine Show concentrates on his more light-hearted and witty songs, all performed with his bright Piedmont fimgerpicking.
Medicine shows were still operating in rural areas right up to the 60s and, having parted company with Simmie, Pink would often ‘go out’ with ‘Chief Thundercloud’s Travelling Show’, sometimes in the company of ‘Peg-Leg Sam’ Jackson. In 1950, Paul Clayton recorded seven of Pink’s ‘Carolina Street Ballads’ which appeared on ‘Gospel, Blues and Street Songs’ on the Riverside label, with the Rev. Gary Davis on the other side. When the Folk/ Blues revival got under way, Sam Charters recorded several albums worth of Pink’s music for the Prestige/ Bluesway label, ‘Medicine Show Man’ being the best known. Pink appeared in the documentary film ‘The Bluesmen’ in 1963 but, sadly, he suffered a stroke in the late 60s which brought his career to a close. Pink passed away in his home-town of Spartanburg in 1974.
Pink’s Gospel Blues, ‘I Will Fly Away’;
Pink was a stylish guitarist and a strong singer with a rich heritage of entertaining songs, but his name is immortalised in another way. In 1965 the young Syd Barrett was looking for a title for his band in Cambridge, England, he combined Pink’s name with that of another Carolina guitarist Floyd Council, and came up with ‘Pink Floyd’.