Listen: Ham Bone / Washboard Willie
Roger Armstrong played me ‘Ham Bone’ in ’07. I’d never heard the version prior, but hunted for it ever since. Let me tell you, this was one hard record to find. Forget about price, it was all about a copy turning up at all. Subsequently I’d been searching unsuccessfully for ages, but just prior to our London trip last week, the first pressing to list on eBay in years appeared. Not about to lose it, I put in a crazy high bid, and luck was on my side.
Funny enough, the auction closed while I was in the UK, sitting in Camden’s Spreadeagle pub with Roger himself. No lie. What a nice email alert to get anywhere, but nicely full circle in this case.
By far the most successful version, according the BILLBOARD chart number, is that by Red Saunders & His Orch. with Delores Hawkins & The Hambone Kids. Love it as you will, still Washboard Willie’s is clearly in a class of it’s own.
Having turned professional in ’52 at thirty years old, a very late bloomer even then, this full time car washer’s apparent first stroke of genius was to name his band Washboard Willie & The Super Suds Of Rhythm. Now who wouldn’t want every record they made on name alone?
Originally playing only his washboard from work, his second stroke, by ’55 he added a bass and snare drum, his third. Listen to Washboard Willie’s performance on ‘Ham Bone’, from ’64, and you’ll hear how he mastered a most primal idea, thereby achieving for himself a permanent slot in music history.
He was one fascinating guy with a fascinating discography as well.