People who don’t know blues music think it’s sad music, but it isn’t.
One of the first musicians I really loved was the legendary bluesman, BB King. I bought his album Live and Well, and got to see him play live twice. I have a poor memory but I still remember the last time I saw him play. My friend Christie and I went to see him at Nautica. The stage manager came out and told the audience BB was doing well and he was excited to be there but we needed to remember he wasn’t in great health. She didn’t want people to yell for him to keep playing and tire him out too much. People looked at each other blankly, not knowing what to expect. Then BB came out, waving the stage manager off as if she was a pesky house fly. He was still BB King, still had that voice and could play the guitar like nobody’s business.
Because of BB King, I started to listen to other blues musicians and I still love that music. Blind Willie McTell is one of my all time favorites. I like Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, and Mississippi John Hurt… lots of other people, too.
The more you listen, the more obscure characters you learn about. I don’t know why some these performers didn’t have more success than they did. It could just have been a question of being in the right place at the right time. Leadbelly, for instance, got his break when Alan Lomax, a folklorist who worked for the Library of Congress, visited the Louisiana prison where he was incarcerated. If you listen to people like Geechie Wiley and Ann Cole, you can tell they had the potential to be much bigger stars than they ever were.
Peg Leg Sam was another guy who never got his big break. That’s not to say nobody noticed him. In 1976, the year before he died, a documentary was made about him called Born for Hard Luck.
He was born in South Carolina in 1911, and named Arthur Jackson. He lost his leg when he was a young man, attempting to jump on a train during the Great Depression. He made his own “peg leg”, which was how he got his nickname. Peg Leg Sam performed at the old medicine shows that used to tour the south from the 1930s until the early 1970s.
He was a genuine attraction and if he was around today, he’d get a lot more attention. He was really talented! He could dance, he was a great comedian, he sang, and he could play two harmonicas at once.
Here’s a little bit of Peg Leg Sam doing his stuff, for your enjoyment: