(July 15, 1910 – November 6, 1966)
Born in 1910, the man known as Washboard Sam was the most popular Washboard player of the thirties. His career took off when he moved from Memphis to Chicago, where he often played with Memphis Slim, Tampa Red, and his alleged half-brother Big Bill Broonzy.
Sam started making records of his own in thirty-five, as much on the merit of his songwriting as his bad-ass washboard technique.
Sam was a master of the hokum blues—a genre comprised entirely of thinly veiled songs about dirty bedroom behavior. And boy was he creative. He’s known for such classics as “Who Pumped the Wind in My Donut,” as well as “Don’t you Tear my Clothes.” But it’s his rendition of “Diggin’ My Potatoes” that’s gone down in history.
With the legendary Memphis Slim on the keys, here’s Washboard Slim and “Diggin’ My Potatoes.”
Robert Brown, or Washboard Sam, was born July 15, 1910 in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. In the late 1920’s he moved to Memphis to street performer with Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon. Soon he followed the blues exodus to Chicago, where he performed regularly with Big Bill Broonzy, and accompanied greats like Memphis Slim and Tampa Red on records for Bluebird. He began recording his own music for Bluebird and Vocalion in 1935, and shortly became the most popular washboard player of the era, if not one of the most beloved acts of the 1930’s and 40’s. Between ’35 and ’49 he recorded over 160 sides. He retired from music in 1950, largely because of his inability to adapt to electric blues styles. He became a Chicago police officer for a number of years, before returning for a short-lived comeback on the heels of the folk-blues revival at the behest of good friends Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim . Washboard Sam died in 1966, and is buried in an unmarked grave in Homewood, Illinois.