Washboard Willie (July 24, 1909 – August
24, 1991) was an American Detroit blues musician, who specialised in playing
the washboard. He recorded tracks including 'A Fool On a Mule in the Middle
of The Road' plus 'Cherry Red Blues', and worked variously with Eddie
'Guitar' Burns, Baby Boy Warren, and Boogie Woogie Red.
Born William Paden Hensley in Columbus, Georgia, Washboard Willie, as he
became known, did not take up music until his thirties. By 1948 he had
relocated to Detroit, and in 1952, he watched
Eddie 'Guitar' Burns performing and
played along with Burns' backing group. He impressed the proprietor and
ended up with a three year residency with the band.
Working full-time washing cars for a living, he decided to name his own
musical ensemble, Washboard Willie and the Super Suds of Rhythm, working off
of the name of a once-popular laundry detergent! He graduated from just
playing the washboard to incorporate a bass drum and snare and, in 1955,
gave Little Sonny his first booking. In 1956, Hensley made his own debut
recording of 'Cherry Red Blues,' with 'Washboard Shuffle;' and then
'Washboard Blues Pt. 1 & 2.' His recording career continued until 1962
utilising Boogie Woogie Red on piano accompaniment. The recordings were not
issued until 1969 on Barrelhouse Records. However, in 1966, Willie did
release a single with the tracks 'Natural Born Lover,' and 'Wee Baby Blues.'
His band remained in demand playing nightly in both Detroit and Ann Arbor.
In 1973, he toured Europe with Lightnin' Slim,
Whispering Smith, Snooky Pryor,
Homesick James and
Boogie Woogie Red; he also played
at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz festival that year on the Saturday afternoon
'Detroit Blues' show. A compilation album, American Blues Legends '73 was
issued on Big Bear Records with Willie contributing the tracks, 'I Feel So
Fine' and 'Kansas City.' Six years later he stopped playing professionally.
He died in Detroit in August 1991, at the age of 82.