Bruce Bastin on Peg Leg Sam

Bruce Bastin on Peg Leg Sam

In 1970, Pete Lowry (very underrated in his blues fieldwork and recordings; remastered at the SFC, little has been issued) and I traced medicine show performer and bluesman Pink Anderson (who had recorded for Columbia in 1928 and made albums in the 1960s) to Spartanburg, S.C., where he had recorded his last three albums.

To check where he was living, we went to the library, which was shut. With some hesitation, we checked at the police station. It was not unnoticed; we were picked up by a police car and told to follow them to Pink's address. Once there, we went to the front door to be met by an agitated person and given directions to a nearby laundromat where another local bluesman could be found.

We went there and found Charles Henry "Baby" Tate (who also recorded in the town in the 1960s), to be joined later by Pink Anderson, who had been playing in a card game in the back of the house when the police came. All vanished through the back door except the one told to open the front door!

Baby Tate had been in the army, stationed on the south coast on England, playing guitar in local bars in his spare time, before being on the D-Day landing in Normandy in June 1944. Seeing I was English, he asked Pete if he could use his guitar, and we sang a duet of "Roll Me Over In The Clover" to a small, bemused audience from the laundromat and nearby grocery store. That sealed our acquaintance.

Talking to Tate we understood he played locally around Rocky Mount with a harmonica player, so brought him over to Spartanburg for Pete Lowry to record him later in the week.  Peg Leg Sam had arrived.

A fascinating and very independent man, Sam Jackson had lost a leg in falling from a freight train, which did not deter him at all. He was a musician/call-up man for a medicine show and was recorded at a fair outside Chapel Hill in 1973; the last medicine show of all time.

Pete Lowry also recorded him. with Baby Tate on guitar on most tracks, but with Pink Anderson on one. Before that, in November 1972, he had appeared in the second half of a blues concert on campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; mostly vocals, harmonica and monologues but also with a superb backing guitarist, Henry Johnson.

Pete Lowry and I took him to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1975 where, at one breakfast, we were sitting at a table with blues singer Victoria Spivey (who had recorded for multiple record labels between 1926 and 1937 and recorded albums, basically during the 1960s. When she saw Sam, she greeted him as an old friend. She had met him many years before when he was still travelling and playing. It was an improbable but delightful meeting.
I never saw him again, but he was one of the most colourful people I was ever privileged to meet.
                                                      --Bruce  Bastin, February 20, 2019