"Harmonica" Frank FloydView In iTunes
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Harmonica Frank Floyd was his own best caricature. A hobo and refugee from the old Southern medicine shows who sang and played like a throwback from the 1920s, he was as colorful as they come, and a case could be made that without Frank there wouldn't have been an Elvis. He was born to itinerant parents on October 11, 1908, in Toccopola, MS, and his parents promptly separated without even giving him a proper name (he decided to call himself Frank Floyd as a teen), leaving Frank to be raised by his sharecropping grandparents. He taught himself to play harmonica when he was ten, and eventually became a pretty decent guitar player as well, developing a hands- and rack-free method of playing harmonica that allowed him to play both instruments at once and still manage to sing.
Following the death of his grandparents, and while still a teenager, Floyd began working as a comedian and musician on the carnival and medicine show circuits, leading to some 30 years of hoboing that would generate his frequent boasts that he never spent two nights in the same place. He began working in radio in 1932, and cut a few sides for Chess Records in 1951, the most notable of which was "Swamp Root." He cut the ultra-primitive "Rockin' Chair Daddy" for Sam Phillips' Sun Records in 1954, becoming the first white musician to record at the studio. "Rockin' Chair Daddy" sounded like a song and recording straight out of the country blues era of the 1920s, but it had just a tinge of what would eventually be called rockabilly, and one can imagine Phillips wondering what would happen if he could find a young, good looking white guy who could sing this kind of stuff — enter Elvis.
Floyd never abandoned his archaic, medicine show-derived style, and when the folk revival hit, he found himself in demand again. He continued to perform and record occasionally right up until his death in Blanchester, OH, on August 7, 1984. An American original, his life linked the medicine show tradition to early rock & roll, and there are precious few who could ever make that claim.