Wilroy Sanders of the Fieldstones dies at 76 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 2/22/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee)Wilroy Sanders, a true old school blues showman and friend, died on February 16, 2010, from complications caused by his battle with lung cancer. Wilroy owned Memphis' famed Green's Lounge, also known as Dorothy's Lounge at 2090 E. Person Ave., which was the blues hotspot of the Orange Mound area until it burned several years ago. Wilroy continued to play at clubs like the Blue Worm but recently his playing was limited to sitting in for a couple of numbers because of his declining health. His loss of vitality and health and growing inability to play deeply troubled him.

Willie Roy "Wilroy" Sanders was the leader of the Fieldstones, a true inner city blues band that claimed its origins and style from the Mississippi Delta blues players. Byhalia, Mississippi, was Wilroy's birthplace. His family farmed in that area until relocating in what was then rural Memphis, actually outside of Collierville, Tennessee, in the 1930's.

Wilroy began building his own guitars as a young boy and when I first met him back in the early 1980's he was playing a cool electric guitar he had made from a wooden 2 by 4. We used to call it the "Wilroy guitar" and it had a really cool sound. I had never seen such an instrument before and was amazed at Wilroy and his guitar.

A young Wilroy Sanders in his Army days 1953-1955

My band, the Wampus Cats, pulling a U-Haul trailer behind my '71 Cadillac, rolled into the town square of Oxford, Mississippi, in 1982 and played a fun couple of sets there in the afternoon before the Fieldstones went on stage. I became quick friends with their lovely and remarkably talented bassist, Lois Brown, who was one of the few rare female blues bass players I had ever seen. The Fieldstones were comprised of Wilroy Sanders (vocals, guitar); Little Applewhite (vocals); Wordie Perkins (guitar, piano); Bobby Carnes (organ); Lois Brown (bass guitar); Joe Hicks (drums); Clarence Nelson (guitar).

In the subsequent years I jammed with different combinations of the band's members and also became friends with Wilroy, Joe, Wordie and Bobby. Everyone in the Fieldstones band was trained by Leroy Hodges, Sr., father of my friend Leroy "Flick" Hodges who played on so many great Hi Records including lots of big hits by Al Green.

the author and the great Howard Grimes

Mr. Hodges, Sr., was the father of all the guys in the Hi records house band, Teeny, Charles, Leroy. Drummer, Howard Grimes, my old friend and band mate, was the only member of the Hi Records house band that was not a son of Mr. Hodges, Sr.

Hi Rythm, the Hi Records house band with Willie Mitchell
Standing: Leroy Hodges, Teeny Hodges, Archie Turner, Charles Hodges and Howard Grimes

Wilroy blended his gospel vocals with the blues and emerged a soul singer with the help of Mr. Hodges. His vocals were heartfelt and moving and the band played so much that they became a tight unit. As a young man, Wilroy was in several Memphis blues bands, including the Binghampton Blues Boys who wrote the blues classic, "Crosscut Saw."

Author and ethnomusicologist Dr. David Evans, head of the doctorate program of Ethnomusicology at the University of Memphis, discovered the band and produced two 45 rpm recordings of them on the High Water label. In 1983 he produced the album Fieldstones, Memphis Blues Today on High Water. David is a good friend who not only authored scholarly texts on music but also plays in the Last Chance Jug Band here in Memphis.

A couple of my buddy Dr. Dave Evans' CD releases.
David discovered and recorded the Fieldstones in the early 1980's

Wilroy Sanders, the Last Living Bluesman

Sanders even became the subject of a 1999 video documentary, produced by local music label Shangri-La Projects, titled “The Last Living Bluesman.” It can be obtained at Shangri-la's site here:

We in Memphis were all thrilled to see the video of the Fieldstones back in late 1980's when MTV still played an occasional song and was looking desperately for some video content. The Fieldstones video, replete with the glowing background lighting of Massa's liquor store on 3rd Street, was both a testament to the past, to deprivation, and concurrently a ray of hope that even some humble blues players could be seen on MTV. As the famous Ramones point out, after the market became glutted with video content, MTV had no time for them or such indelible roots music as the Fieldstones.

To help defray Sanders’ funeral costs, Shangri-La Records, located at 1916 Madison Ave., has set up a charity fund. Anyone who donates $25 or more will get their choice of a free copy of Sanders’ “The Last Living Bluesman” CD, book or video. Sanders is survived by his wife Dorothy Mae Tucker Sanders, and more than two-dozen children

Other Fieldstones:

Wordie Perkins would occasionally find himself off the Fielstones roster for imbibing tooo much in the spiritus fermenti, but he always returned to light up the show with his inimitable style. Wordie, who once drank so much he passed out before the first song at an overseas festival only to wake up, on stage, for the last number, and play to an overwhelming round of non-stop applause, has passed on to glory. God bless you, Wordie, it was a pleasure to be on stage with you. The last I heard of my friend, Lois Brown, she had lost a leg to diabetes and moved back with a family member in Pennsylvania. These are the last remnants of the Fieldstones original blues players from my area that still plied their craft despite the vicissitudes and trials of time, age, infirmity and changing tastes.

My greatest hope is that others, with even a shred of such soulfulness and virtue, will replace the lost Fieldstones in the blues pantheon. Memphis, Tennessee, has lost a beautiful, poignant and enduring voice in Wilroy Sanders. I will never forget you, Wilroy, and I can still see you with your self-made 2 by 4 guitar playing and singing with the enduring soul of man down at that stage in Oxford, Mississippi.

© Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms, 2010


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