When Robert Johnson sang his seminal ‘Crossroads Blues’, in the last verse he tells how he is running away, but asks for ‘my friend Willie Brown’. That line immortalised Willie for future generations, but in truth he did enough in his own right to gain a page in Blues History, despite having recorded only three tracks himself. Willie was a close friend and accompanist to Charley Patton at the Dockery Plantation outside Clarksdale in the late 20s. This was an important time and place for Delta Blues, because the pioneers that lived there were playing and improvising on the simple country Blues that Charley had picked up from his mentor, the mysterious Henry Sloan, a figure who could be considered an originator of the Blues. When record companies realised there was a market for ‘race music‘, they sent their field units to the South, and just beyond Memphis, they struck gold on the plantations around Clarksdale, recording Son House, Ishman Bracey, and a host of others.
Willie was one of the guitar players who established the classic Delta Blues sound. Possessed of a strong voice and a solid technique, Willie worked mainly as a ‘second’ guitar, carrying the tune and allowing space for the main artist to show off his riffs and turnarounds, a role where Willie’s skill and sensitivity were much valued by his peers. This combination of guitars and voice became the standard format for a country Blues song. Willie was also the man responsible for taking both Tommy Johnson
and Robert Johnson the the Dockery Plantation to meet Charley Patton, and for that alone he did a lot to advance the cause of the Blues. When Charley and Son House travelled to a recording session at Paramount’s Grafton, WS studios in 1930, Willie went along to ‘second’ and he also cut two solo tracks, ‘Future Blues’ and ‘M&O Blues’. A third and final track, ‘Make Me a Pallet on the Floor’, was one of Alan Lomax
‘s field recordings when he toured the area in 1941. During WWII, Willie moved to Rochester NY with Son House, but he could not settle in the North and soon returned to the Delta where he died in obscurity in 1952.
Willie’s 1941 song ‘Make Me a Pallet on the Floor’;