Pink Anderson was born in Lawrence, South Carolina, on the 12th of February 1900, and was raised in Spartanburg in the northwestern part of South Carolina. He first went on the road at age fourteen, employed by a Dr. Kerr of the Indian Remedy Company. In the early 1900’s, pitchmen such as this would travel from town to town with a ‘Medicine show’. Musicians attracted attention to the cart, from which the ‘doctor’ would sell a most miraculous elixir, available today only for the paltry sum of one dollar-step-right-up.
Pink travelled with Kerr until 1945, when the good doctor retired. In the early days Pink sang a little, danced and told a few jokes: ‘I couldn’t play nothing but ‘bastopol’ tuning when I started on guitar. You know, “John Henry” and songs like that.’
In 1916 Pink met Simmie Dooley, a blind singer much older than himself, living in Spartanburg. With Simmie he became a blues singer. When Pink wasn’t out with the Indian Remedy Company, he and Simmie played at picnics and parties in small towns around Spartanburg, like Woodruff and Roebuck.
Pink’s musical life with Simmie was very different from his stage life. They’d go into the woods to practise, usually with a bottle of corn Whiskey to help their throats, and Simmie would sing the songs over and over until Pink got the chords. Sometimes Simmie would cut a switch and hit at Pink’s hands if he kept missing a change.
Pink recalled playing at a country club party, after he’d spent the entire day sitting on a log in the woods behind the golf course trying to learn the chords for ‘The stars and stripes forever’. His hands were so swollen from Simmie’s switch that he could hardly play.
With Simmie, Pink made his first recordings: two sides for the old Columbia 1400 series, made in Atlanta in the late ‘20s. Columbia tried to get him into the studio again without Simmie, but Pink refuse, and it was not until the early ‘50s that Paul Clayton heard him playing at a fair and recorded him again, doing a group of his favourite medicine show tunes.
After Dr. Kerr’s retirement in 1945, Pink worked less and less, preferring to stay near his home in Spartanburg. He kept a small guitar, washboard and harmonica trio working until 1957, when heart troubled forced him into retirement.
After Simmie’s death in December 1960, Pink made a few recordings, including his appearance in a film called The Bluesmen (1963). Otherwise, he mainly played for friends, and taught songs to his son.
Pink Anderson died in 1974.
Note that while all of the Pink Floyd books refer to Pink as a Georgia bluesman – possibly because his early recordings were cut in Atlanta – he is in fact a son of Carolina. Furthermore, his singing is said to characterize a style associated with the red clay hills of the western Carolinas. One of his album covers states: ‘A singer from the flat glare of the sun on the Mississippi Delta seems to shout his anger and his pain, while a singer from the Carolinas seems to sing with a melancholy shrug…’ His singing is said to be comparable to Blind Boy Fuller, a more well known Carolina singer.
According to bluesman Paul Geremia, who opened for Pink at a series of dates shortly before the latter’s death, he was unaware Pink Floyd the Floyd’s appropriation of his name: ‘I don’t think I even realized that till after he was dead.’
Geremia had sought out Pink in the early ‘70s: ‘He was living in very poor conditions in a little house
That cost him $50 a month.’ That was two-thirds of Pink’s retirement income. To supplement it, Geremia said, ‘He was running card games at his house, and selling booze to people, moonshine, or whatever he could get.’
‘It’s too bad. The guy was a real important person, culturally speaking, and he was virtually ignored. Even his neighbours had little inkling that he was a musician.’