By Susan Sliwicki
YOU KNOW YOU’RE A BIG DEAL when blues legend Robert Johnson name-checks you in a song (“Crossroads”), and you’re backing Charley Patton and Son House. So why are two of Willie Brown’s three Paramount records MIA?
That’s a mystery many collectors want to solve, including John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. While many blues records deemed “unfindable” have turned up in the last 20 years, Brown’s Paramount 13001 (“Grandma Blues” b/w “Sorry Blues”) and Paramount 13099 (“Kicking In My Sleep Blues” b/w “Window Blues”) aren’t among them. In fact, Paramount 13001 used to turn up as a blank number in discographies, as everyone assumed it wasn’t issued, he said. Only Paramount 13090, Brown’s “M&O Blues” b/w “Future Blues,” has been found.
Tefteller is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s offering $25,000 to anyone who turns up either record in playable condition.
“Yes, I’d like to buy them, and, yes, I’d pay an immense amount of money to own them,” he admitted. “But just hearing them would be good.”
So why is the fascination with Brown’s missing records so strong?
“Because of how great ‘Future Blues’ is,” Tefteller said. “They just have to be magnificent records; they have to be long-lost masterpieces, based on how good he is on everything else he played on.”
Brown’s “Future Blues” has been covered by artists including Canned Heat, Dr. John and Johnny Winter. In “Future Blues,” Brown employs a guitar technique where he snaps the guitar strings, which, along with great lyrics and a great performance, adds up to an all-time great blues record, Tefteller said.
Tefteller is positive that copies of Paramount 13099 and 13001 exist, even though they haven’t been spotted since the 1930s. In 1935, Paramount mailed a clutch of masters to Columbia, with the hope the New York label might lease them. The master for Paramount 13001 was among those sent to Columbia in 1935, according an inventory list sent to Columbia in 1935 and returned to Paramount — proof that the record was pressed and does exist, he said.
“There have to be copies out there. Nobody’s going to convince me that there’s not copies out there until I’m dead and we haven’t found one, and then I’m still not gonna be convinced, because I think they’re out there,” Tefteller said. “They’re hiding in some home, in some closet, in some attic, in some barn.”
While few Paramount masters survive, there is a chance that the Willie Brown masters are still around. So how can you tell if you have a missing Willie Brown master?
It would be a thick, aluminum disc about 10-1/2 inches in diameter, possibly in an envelope bearing engineering notes and maybe the artist’s name, Tefteller said.
While the discs may not be marked Paramount, Brown’s missing songs were from the L master series, meaning the number L-414, L-415, L-416 or L-417 would appear somewhere on the master disc, depending on the song, he said.
Tefteller is confident that any Willie Brown recordings that might be found would be the real deal, as there are no audio tracks to fake them from, and no one could play like Brown.
“If they turn up, they’re gonna be legitimate,” Tefteller said. “They could turn up on tests or actual pressings.”
While you’re hunting for Brown’s records, you also might want to watch for a picture of him. Even though Alan Lomax recorded Brown, Son House and Muddy Waters performing in the early 1940s for a Library of Congress project, he didn’t take a photo of the session. That was unusual, because Lomax traveled with recording equipment and a camera, and photos exist from almost every other session Lomax ever did.
“No one seems to know why, because there are no notations in his archives,” Tefteller said.
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