A professional musician for nearly 60 years, Sammie Moore, aka Ironing Board Sam, has experienced a career renaissance since 2010.
Moore sails on the Blues Cruise, appears at European festivals and performs throughout the Southeastern region near his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. This year, he also returned to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
In 2012, Moore released two albums through the Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. The Hillsborough, N.C.-based organization assists older Southern musicians in various ways, including career regeneration and development.
Moore returns to New Orleans this weekend to perform at the Crescent City Blues and Barbecue Festival. He lived in New Orleans for many years, performing at Mason’s V.I.P. Lounge on South Claiborne Avenue and in Bourbon Street clubs, including longtime New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s Bourbon Street After Hours.
The 73-year-old Moore is an inventor as well as a singer, songwriter and keyboard player. When gigs for blues-based artists such as himself evaporated in the 1970s after the rise of disco music, he created the Human Jukebox.
“Disco was everywhere,” he recalled from Chapel Hill. “I drove 1,500 north, 1,500 west, couldn’t get a job. Everybody told me to get a record player. I refused to get a record player. So I said, ‘Well, I’m going to make a show.’ ”
Moore built his Human Jukebox, a contraption large enough to fit himself inside. He listed his songs on the front of the box and, when Bourbon Street visitors dropped a quarter in, he played the tune song they’d selected.
Unfortunately, his popularity became a drawback when the Human Jukebox began drawing patrons out of Bourbon Street clubs. The police shut him down for disturbing the peace.
In another example of Moore’s invention, he made a splash at the 1979 Jazz Fest by performing in a 1,500-gallon tank of water.
“Because of disco I had to do something strange,” he explained.
Growing up in rural Rock Hill, N.C., Moore got his talent for invention from his father.
“What my daddy couldn’t buy, he would make,” he said.
Moore’s music name, Ironing Board Sam, sprung from a legless electric keyboard he built from large silver thumbtacks, a box of amplifier tubes and 60 telephone wires. Rings on his fingers served as pickups.
Moore played his homemade keyboard on his father’s kitchen table.
“My daddy told me I had to get it off the table,” he recalled. “So then I see an ironing board in a hardware store. I say, ‘I can put my keyboard on an ironing board, fold it up and get it out of my daddy’s way. I did that.”
When he performed, Moore hung drapes around his ironing board, giving the homemade keyboard the appearance of an organ.
After touring with a carnival show, Moore played his makeshift instrument in a club in Memphis.
“The people pulled up the drapes and laughed. ‘Hee-hee-hee.’ They called me Ironing Board Sam. And people were coming from miles around just to pull up my drapes while I’m playing and call me Ironing Board Sam.”
Word about Ironing Board Sam stretched all the way to Nashville. He later become a regular on the city’s 1960s soul music TV show, Night Train.
But Moore’s efforts to be a recording artist yielded one disappointment after another. Hi Records in Memphis and Chess Records in Chicago, for instance, told them they were busy with Chuck Berry, Al Green, whomever it might be.
The Music Maker Foundation finally released Moore’s self-produced first album, Ninth Wonder of the World of Music, this year. Moore originally pressed only 100 copies of the album, the intended audience being booking agents.
The Music Maker label also released a newly recorded Ironing Board Sam album, Going Up, this year.
“The Music Maker Foundation, they’ve been great to me,” he said.
Following a career that’s often been discouraging, Moore performs frequently. He writes a new song every day and has another album due next year.
“Now the songs keep on coming through my mind,” he said. “When the song comes, the bass lines come, the chords come, the melody comes, all of them come at once. That’s what’s happened to my mind now. I don’t why it’s done that, but I love it.”