The Ninth Wonder: Ironing Board Sam Keeps ‘em Guessing

“I’m back,” Sam “Ironing Board Sam” Moore declares with happy gusto. The talented rhythm and blues vocalist and keyboardist, who thrilled people and provoked their curiosity with his inventions and stunts, was recently named Living Blues Magazine’s “Comeback Artist of the Year.” With the help of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks out older, often retired musicians to kick-start their careers, Moore, 73, is again touring regularly both nationally and internationally. In August, the Music Maker label re-released Ironing Board Sam’s 1967 recording The Ninth Wonder of the World of Music. Only 100 copies were ever produced.

“I was trying to get work so I sent it to 100 agencies,” he explains. “I did it in the studio because I wanted to make a good impression.”

Ironing Board Sam Williams Photo by Elliot Deluca

Bluesman Ironing Board Sam still has a few tricks up his sleeve, photo by Elliot Deluca.

Simply put, the album is a gem. Moore, who was born in Rock Hill, South Carolina and after various moves landed in New Orleans in 1974, shows off his vocal prowess from the jump on Marvin & Johnny’s 1954 doo-wop hit “Cherry Pie” complete with essential piano triplets. His approach here and on several numbers might remind some of the late Johnny Adams, a vocalist Moore admired highly. He has some fun on his original “Do the Ironing Board,” hits on the blues and offers up some jazz scatting on “Bye Bye Blackbird” that also displays his renowned speed and groove on the keyboards. The only other musician onboard is Lil’ George, a drummer from Gary, Indiana.

“The button board has instant action,” Moore says of his ability to play at lightning speed on the instrument of his own creation. He compares its inner workings with computers because of the electronic contacts: “I used thumbtacks for the notes and my fingers were the pickups.”

Ironing Board Sam is a man of invention. At the 1979 Jazz & Heritage Festival, he miraculously and hilariously performed while submerged in a 1,500-gallon water tank of his own design. Because of such stunts, he was sometimes not taken seriously as a musician.

“Each thing I did was a wonder,” Moore says. “People just wondered what I was going to do next. The reason I didn’t electrocute myself was because I was using DC instead of AC current.

“Some people thought I was a novelty,” he continues, referring to the “Ironing Board” handle he acquired when forced to use the household item to support his keyboards. “I knew the name wasn’t a classy name but I kept it because I knew it would stick. People who know music do take me seriously.”

Ironing Board Sam planned to take the water tank on the road but found it couldn’t fit into most clubs. Disco was on the rise and he was having trouble getting work. His ingenuity led him to build another “wonder,” the Human Jukebox.

“I put a strobe light and a tweeter on the top and the bass speaker in the bottom,” explains Moore, who would be inside the device with his keyboard. “I put all my tunes on a dashboard and there was a slot for the quarter.

“I was on Bourbon Street,” he reminisces, “and people began to come out of the clubs and started crowding around my jukebox. Finally, the police came up and they just watched me for a while and then they arrested me for noise. They took my jukebox and the keyboard and I never saw my jukebox again. They had my keyboard for two months. I’m trying to find work and they put me out of work.”

Moore, who gained recognition in the early 1960s as a regular on the television show Night Train, only intended to stay in New Orleans until the winter weather broke up north. However, he soon got a gig at the popular Mason’s V.I.P Lounge on South Claiborne Avenue. Kerry Brown, who was then just 17 years old and who presently produces the Gretna Festival, was on drums in the duo. Word is Brown was known to douse his instrument with lighter fluid at the end of the show and set it on fire.

Ironing Board Sam also spent 15 years playing at Bourbon Street After Hours, a club owned by Jim Garrison. While he was there, a music producer from France heard him and began booking Moore overseas.

Before Katrina, Moore lived in New Orleans East then moved to Jackson, Mississippi to build and gig at a new club there, the 930 Blues Café. His stepsister tracked him down and encouraged him to return to Rock Hill — he’d been gone from his hometown for 45 years. Living Blues journalist Gene Tomko brought Ironing Board Sam to a gathering in Chapel Hill, North Carolina presented by Music Maker. The organization’s founder, Tim Duffy, heard him and began getting Ironing Board Sam work. Music Maker also released his Ninth Wonder CD in August.

“They’ve done a great thing for the older musicians who retired and who some people had forgotten,” Moore says appreciatively.

“My purpose of being a musician is to make people laugh and I like to make people have fun and I like people to be happy.”

Ironing Board Sam performs at the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, October 14.