By Max Brzezinski
After a long day at the office, Ironing Board Sam’s in your living room. Sam’s dressed to the nines, bedizened in purple. From behind a bejeweled keyboard, he asks you what’s wrong. You tell him you bombed a presentation at work. Instead of commiserating, Ironing Board kicks into a ditty on the state of your shirt: “You know it’s wrinkled! Sloppy! It’s messy.” But don’t worry, there’s a solution. In the world according to Ironing Board Sam, Faultless starch-in-a-can won’t just fix your shirt, it might fix your whole life. Saying goodbye to the wrinkle blues is not just a clothes-care hack, it’s a lifestyle.
Now Ironing Board Sam is many things. A veteran blues and R&B performer, he’s played with Jimi Hendrix and Allen Toussaint; a consummate showman with a flair for spectacle, he’s sang from a hot-air balloon and underwater; an amateur inventor, his “button board” was the first portable keyboard. Sam styles everything: another of his glammed-up keyboards is now on display in Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music.
And in 2015, Sam became the unlikely spokesperson for Faultless Spray Starch: he recorded a number of amazing spots with the company. When he got the gig, he proclaimed: “The spirit told me about the starch, I had a vision. This can is going to take me to where I want to go.”
We’re revisiting these ads now for a few reasons. First and foremost, they’re fun. Sam is incredibly telegenic, and the videos are hilarious. He’s always been a natural performer, and it’s amazing more companies didn’t capitalize on the man’s obvious star-power. His impromptu bits of sung-advice are satirical but charming, never mean; the ads are campy but Sam’s always in on the joke. Second, the ads showcase the spark, humor and verve of Music Maker artists like Ironing Board. While the work we do is often serious, we do it so our partner artists can express themselves with as much elan as Sam.
Finally, a bit more seriously, the ads bring up the question of the commercialization of blackness in American culture. Now you could imagine a po-faced observer critiquing them: for using a great performer to shill for a corporate product, for turning the black experience into a spectacle, and so on. But this would miss the point. First of all, Sam was paid well and viewed his work a logical next step for a performer “with a name about clothes and a career about clothes.” Second, no white performer would be similarly expected to turn down such a gig. And as no one currently operates outside of consumer society, moralism is beside the point.
In any case, not all creative work has to aim for social uplift. Some creations are just gloriously, meaninglessly entertaining. At Music Maker, we work hard to address artists’ basic needs to help them be as free as Ironing Board Sam.
Your support makes it possible for us to support artists like Ironing Board Sam, whose music and work contribute so much to our cultural heritage. Please consider making a donation to our Sustenance Program today so that we can continue this work. Thank you.