Peg Leg Sam was born Arthur Jackson in December 1911, in Jonesville, South Carolina.
He began playing harmonica as a child and left home at the age of 12 to make his own way in the world. He rolled through a number of odd jobs then lost his leg when trying to hop a train. As legend has it, he attached an old fence post to the stump with a leather belt—hence the nickname Peg Leg Sam.
He was a gifted harmonicist but also an avid song collector and storied performer. He was able to play harmonica with his nose, and could play two harmonicas at once. He began performing on the Medicine Show circuit during the Depression and continued to tour this way for most of the rest of his life.
He wasn’t discovered by the recording industry until 1972, when he was 61 years old. Though he made a couple of professional recordings and released some live recordings he’d made with Louisiana Red, he died just five years after entering a studio for the first time.
Luckily, his recordings remain and are well worth a listen for fans of harmonica and the Piedmont blues.
Throughout the month of February 2023, Folk Alley is featuring great Black folk artists who helped define the form in the early days of recording. To illustrate how deep and important are the contributions of these archived Black folk artists, we are also spotlighting modern artists who have been directly inspired by their work. You can listen anytime by clicking on the Classic Folk stream on the Folk Alley website or app. We will also be highlighting a different historical Black folk artist each week here on the website.
“Born For Hard Luck”
“Going Train Blues”
“Who’s That Left Here ‘While Ago?”
“Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”