HARMONICA FRANK - KING OF HARPS - Frank Floyd, born to Reuben Brewster Floyd and Estella Miles in Toccopola, Pontotoc County, Mississippi, on October 11, 1908, was nicknamed "Shak" (he was never christened with a formal name). Also known as "Rambling
King" and "The Silly Kid". Frank Floyd was one of 3 children and he raised and worked on the farm from his childhood, and he taught himself the harmonica at 10 years of age. He spent his earliest years
with his grandparents in rural Arkansas, left home in 1922, and rambled throughout much of the Depression.
He left home in 1922 and adopted the name Frank Floyd. Frank joined a carnival in the early 1920s and played for nickels and dimes
on street corners. Floyd was frequent and working as comedian, singing harmonicist in carnivals, amateur shows, on the streets in honky tonk bars, and parks through the South and Southwest circa 1922 through the end of the 1920s. He was influenced by DeFord Bailey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Palmer McAbee and Jimmy Rodgers, Harmonica Frank worked with the Cole Brothers Carnival through the South in the late 1920s and toured with the West Motorized Show through the South.
In 1932, Harmonica Frank toured as a
one man band with the Happy Phillipson's Medicine Show, and worked gigs in Juarez in Mexico, appeared with Buster Steele's Log Cabin Wranglers for KELW-radio in Burbank, California. He also
toured with Dr. Hood's Medicine Show through the South in 1933-34 and appeared on his own show for KLCN-radio in Blytheville, Arkansas and appeared on KTHS-radio in Hot Springs, Arkansas during
the 1930s. In the early 1940s, Harmonica Frank appeared on WOBT-radio in Union City, Tennessee and frequently worked outside the music as farmer in the mid-1940s, and frequently toured with
Eddie Hill's Troupe and he appeared on WMC-radio in Memphis, Tennessee during the late 1940s. In the early 1950s, harmonica Frank appeared on the local radio station in Valdosta, Georgia and
worked in the Rainbow Lake Club in Memphis, Tennessee and recorded for the Chess label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1951.
Having already developed his virtuosity on the harmonica he took up the guitar after hearing the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers. The
shtick he developed during his spell with the Happy Phillipson Medicine Show was faithfully reproduced on Frank's only Sun record, "The Great Medical Menagerist"/"Rockin' Chair Daddy" (SUN
205), in 1954. Occasionally, Frank landed a steady gig at a radio station. It was during a short-term gig with Smilin' Eddie Hill on WMC, Memphis, that he first came to Phillips' attention
high in the wake of "Rocket 88" (CHESS 1458), Sam Phillips persuaded the Chess brothers in Chicago to take two cuts from Harmonica Frank. "Swamp Root" was coupled with a primordel blues, "Goin'
Away Walkin'" was replaced with a cover version of Bigg Jeff and the Radio Playboys' hit, "Step It Up And Go".
By the time Frank's second Chess record was released in January 1952 his steady gig on WMC had ended, Eddie Hill having left for Nashville.
When he recorded for Sun in 1954, Frank was working at a station in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The Sun single, which coupled the charmingly anachronistic "Great Medical Menagerist" with "Rockin'
Chair Daddy" (SUN 205), was released at the same time as Elvis Presley's debut - July 1954. It was Presley's record that sealed Frank's fate. Some reviewers noted that "Rockin' Chair Daddy"
was a good blend of black and white musical styles; the problem was that it blended the black and withe musical styles of the 1920s.
Still sensing that he could be a part of the rockabilly revolution, Frank Floyd auditioned
for Meteor Records on 1794 Chelsea Avenue in Memphis, and then issued a record on the F and L label, which he co-owned with another would-be rockabilly, Larry Kennon. Frank took
the lead vocal on one side, "Rock A Little Baby", and his partner, Larry Kennon, took the vocal on the other side, "Monkey Love". They spent days promoting the record, selling it to variety
stores or any one who would take it but sales were very disappointing. Disappointed with its failure, Frank moved to Dallas, started hawking ice cream, and got out of the music business, he even sold
his Martin guitar that he had bought with the $100 cheque from Chess Records.
In the early 1960s, Harmonica Frank worked outside in the music in the Dallas, Texas and the Memphis, Tennessee area. At some point, Frank
Floyd returned to Tennessee to work for his cousin. He married a woman he met through a lonely hearts club and settled in Millington outside music, near Memphis. It was there, in the early
1970s, that he was rediscovered by Stephen LaVere, who followed a tortuous path to Frank's door, giving him a second lease on life as an attraction at folk music festivals. In 1971, Harmonica
Frank, worked at the Mid-South Jamboree, at Linden Circle Theater in Memphis, Tennessee and play frequently in Mama's Coffeehouse in Memphis during 1972, and appeared at the University
of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois, performed at the River City Blues Festival in Memphis and on the First Church Congregational in Cambridge, Massachusetts from that same year.
In 1972 through 1974, Harmonica Frank Floyd recorded
for the Adelphi label in Silver Spring, Maryland, and toured with the Memphis Blues caravan on concert dates through the mid-West. In 1974, Frank Floyd appeared and worked at the University
of California in Santa Barbara, California, and the San Diego State University in San Diego, California (portion remote on KPFK-radio) and recorded in 1975 for the Barrelhouse label in Chicago, Illinois.
For his death, Harmonica Frank Floyd worked frequently in coffeehouses, blues festivals, university concerts through the 1970s.
First and last, Frank Floyd was an entertainer: he had learned his craft on countless street corners, where he had only a few seconds
to catchosomeone's attention. That skill remained intact fifty years later. Floyd's music belongs to the American disenfranchised of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He is a self-proclaimed spokesman
for the rounders, backwoods rebels, poor farmers, sharecroppers, labourers, drifters, hobos and alley people of that hardtime period.
After his rediscovery, Frank Floyd claimed to have invented rock and roll with much the same
cheerful disregard for the facts that Jelly Roll Morton exhibited in claiming to have invented jazz. Yet when Harmonica Frank Floyd entered the Continental Hospital in Blanchester, Ohio where
he died August 7, 1984 on pneumonia. Harmonica Frank Floyd is buried at the Clover Cemetery in Bethel, Ohio, and a piece of American musical history died with him.
Only Chris Strachwitz, who runs the Blues Classic label,
and Down Home Music, ever paid him any money for his music. He told blues researcher Steve LaVere, who rediscovered him in 1972: "I spent a lot of time listening to the darkies in days gone
by singing in the cottonfield down South and I picket up their songs and speech. That is the reason people think I am a coloured man, But I really am white. I never played with no blacks,
but I was a fan of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson".
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