John Brim performing at a Bluesfest in Aurora, Illinois.
April 10, 1922|
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, United States
|Died||October 1, 2003
Gary, Indiana, United States
John Brim (April 10, 1922 – October 1, 2003) was an American Chicago blues guitarist, songwriter and singer. He wrote and recorded the original "Ice Cream Man" that Van Halen covered on their first album and David Lee Roth also covered on Diamond Dave. "Ice Cream Man" was also covered by Martin Sexton on his 2001 double album, Live Wide Open. Brim died of heart cancer on October 1, 2003.
Brim picked up his early guitar licks from the gramophone records of Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy, before venturing first to Indianapolis in 1941 and Chicago four years later. He met his wife Grace in 1947; fortuitously, she was a capable drummer and harmonica player who played on several of Brim's records. She was also the vocalist on a 1950 single for the Detroit-based Fortune Records, that signaled the beginning of Brim's discography.
Brim recorded for Random Records, J.O.B. Records, Parrot Records (the socially aware "Tough Times"), and Checker Records ("Rattlesnake," his answer to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" was pulled from the shelves by Chess for fear of a plagiarism lawsuit). All of his 1950s recordings for the Chess brothers were later included on the compilation LP/CD "Whose Muddy Shoes" (which also included the few recordings Elmore James made for Chess and Checker; because they share this LP/CD, it has sometimes been assumed that they performed or recorded together, but this is not the case.) On some tracks Little Walter played the harmonica, whilst Jimmy Reed, Snooky Pryor, or James Dalton were also featured blowing the harp. Cut in 1953, the suggestive "Ice Cream Man" had to wait until 1969 to enjoy a very belated release. Brim's last Chess single, "I Would Hate to See You Go," was waxed in 1956 with a combo consisting of Little Walter, guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr., bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Fred Below.
In between touring, Brim operated dry-cleaning businesses and a record store. When the royalties from Van Halen’s recording of "Ice Cream Man" came through, they enabled him to open John Brim’s House of the Blues Broadway Nite Club in Chicago.
Brim continued to perform occasionally around Chicago, and was a regularly featured performer on the Chicago Blues Festival beginning in 1991, when he was backed by the local Chicago blues band The Ice Cream Men (drummer Steve Cushing, guitarists Dave Waldman and "Rockin'" Johnny Burgin, and harmonica player Scott Dirks; the band name was coincidental - they were not Brim's regular band, but had been using that name because the members had previously worked with Chicago bluesman Otis "Big Smokey" Smothers, who worked as an ice cream man on Chicago's south side.)
He was tempted back into the recording studio again in 1989 to record four songs for the German Wolf label, and renewed interest in him finally led to his recording his first solo CD, Ice Cream Man, for Tone Cool Records in 1994. It received a W. C. Handy nomination as the best Traditional Blues Album of the Year.
Brim also appeared at the 1997 San Francisco Blues Festival.
Brim, who lived in Gary, Indiana remained active on the Chicago blues scene until his death, on 1 October 2003 at the age of 81. He is survived by seven daughters and two sons. One son predeceased him.
On the morning of October 1, 2003, Brim fell ill after talking on the phone with a friend. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The doctor later said that Brim died of heart cancer at age 81.