Sunday, December 29, 2013
Wash Board Willie - Whippin' That Board!
During the day he washed cars for a local auto company. One day he had this idea, while making some suds in the water, to call his band, Washboard Willie & the Super Suds of Rhythm. This first band consisted of Washboard Willie on washboard and vocals, Chuck Smith on bass, and Anthony Lewis. At first, Hensley was just beating the washboard, and tapping his foot; soon he added the bass drum, and then the snare. In 1955, Hensley gave a young upstart, Little Sonny Willis (harmonica), his first job. In 1956, Hensley recorded for Joe Von Battle at the Palmer House in Detroit. Hensley teamed-up with Calvin Frazier on guitar, to record "Cherry Red Blues" and '"Washboard Shuffle," along with "Washboard Blues Pt. 1 & 2." He continued to record for Von Battle from 1957 to 1962. The sessions included Hensley, drums, washboard, and vocals; Calvin Frazier, guitar; Boogie Woogie Red, piano; and Chuck Smith, baritone saxophone. The tape sat in the backroom of Von Battle's record shop, until George Paulus retrieved them and put them out on his Barrelhouse Records, in 1982; JSP Records from England, also released the sessions. In 1966, Willie did a session for the Herculon label, releasing "Natural Born Lover" and "Wee Baby Blues," backed by Evans McLendon on guitar, and Angelo Willis on baritone saxophone. The band was now playing seven nights a week in Detroit and Ann Arbor. In 1973, he toured with the American Blues Legends '73 Tour, traveling all over Europe. An album was released on Big Bear/Poly 2460 186 from the tour featuring Hensley, along with Lightnin' Slim, Whispering Smith, Boogie Woogie Red, Snooky Pryor, and Homesick James. By 1979, Washboard Willie wasn't playing much anymore -- only special local engagements. He was always a family man and a Sunday School teacher, and he began to enjoy his retirement. He died on August 24, 1991, at the age of 82, in Detroit.