Peter Brown (singer)
11 July 1953 |
Blue Island, Illinois, United States
|Genres||Electronic, disco, post-disco, funk, classical, dance|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter and record producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, keyboards, percussion|
Peter Brown (born 11 July 1953, Blue Island, Illinois, United States) is an American artist, songwriter and record producer. He grew up in Palos Heights, a Chicago suburb. His mother, Virginia, was artistic and musically talented and gave Peter music lessons at a young age. Peter’s father, Maurice, was an electronic engineer and unwittingly helped him learn the technical aspects of recording music. He always brought home the latest technological breakthrough - which in those days included CB and ham radios, the first color television and the first stereo record player.
Maurice also purchased a number of tape recorders which Peter played with as a child. One of these machines, a TEAC A-1200 2-track, had a feature which allowed transferring recordings on one track to a second track, while simultaneously allowing recording something new on that second track. This was Peter’s first introduction to overdubbing - which was a standard element of making recordings.
Brown became serious about music in his teens and chose to learn the drums. His greatest inspirations in music at the time were Santana, Earth Wind and Fire and Chicago. He later became proficient playing timbales, conga drums, and a large number of other percussion instruments. Brown said that "As a teenager I was in many different “garage” bands and continued to write and record different musical pieces heavily based on percussion."
Keyboards came later and Brown was one of the pioneer users of the musical synthesizer. For a time he was spokesman for the ARP Synthesizer company, since he used their products almost exclusively in performances and recordings. He has also been credited as being one of the founders of “House Music” in the 1970s.
Although music was always a big part of his life, he never thought of it as a possible profession. He always assumed he would become a painter or a graphic artist of some kind. After High School he enrolled in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Although it was a prestigious school, professors seemed indifferent, and the facilities were rudimentary at the time. Brown said, "I got no real instruction and wondered what I was going to do after four years of this sort of education."
Then Brown met Cory Wade who eventually became his first producer. "I met Cory Wade by chance through mutual friends," Brown recalled. "Although he was a music producer, my friends thought he might also have some connections in the art world and could help me out in some way. But, being a music producer, he was more interested in hearing about what I was doing musically than as a painter. He encouraged me to send him some of my demos and would critique them. By now I had a 4-track recorder and was able to produce better recordings. I was also in possession of one of the newest musical breakthroughs - a synthesizer. It was very rudimentary by today’s standards, but back then it was revolutionary."
It was at this point Brown chose to break away from a career in art and concentrate exclusively on music. Never intending to become an entertainer, Brown envisioned being a song writer, studio musician, or producer. It was suggested by Wade, however, that no one could perform his music better than he (Peter) could.
Brown assembled a group of musicians to perform his music, inspiring them with stories of his connections with Cory Wade. Among the original members of the band was Pat Hurley, who sang and played keyboard in the band and who eventually co-write lyrics with Brown. Tom Dziallo played bass in the band bass and guitar on all of Brown's albums, and Robert Rans became Brown's lead keyboard player and primary lyric writing partner for many years. Brown's lifelong friend, Robert Vavrik, never joined the band but eventually penned some lyrics with Brown.
Brown recalled, "The musical trend of the time was disco. So even though it was not the type of music I was interested in (or even really liked), I altered my style to fit the times. I continued to send my 4-track demos until one day I got an excited call from Cory saying the last group of songs I sent him contained a definite “hit”. He was excited enough about it that he was going to take it to TK Records in Hialeah, Florida, to see if he could make a record deal. I thought he was talking about another song, but he was actually excited about a number called 'Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me?'”
Cory took the demo to TK Records where there was immediate excitement. Within days Henry Stone, the president of TK, wanted to release the song just as it was and offered Cory a deal for the single. This was followed by an album deal if the single was successful. Although naturally excited by the offer, Brown could not stand the idea of releasing his 4-track, home made demo as the actual record.
"I just couldn't believe the sound quality would be good enough. I wanted to re-record the song from scratch in a professional studio. But the record company wanted to release my demo just the way it was. So we eventually compromised. I brought the demo to a recording studio in Florida and transferred it to a 24-track machine. I was then able to fix a few parts I thought were a bit weak and add a few extra parts to it that I thought were important - the guitar and the female vocals in particular. I was also able to create Burning Love Breakdown from scratch to be used as a B side and in the expanded 12” version of the song."
12” singles were something new at that time. They were essentially extended versions of a song meant to be played in discothèques. Some were recorded from scratch and some were just the single or album versions of a song that were lengthened and embellished. They became popular and added a whole new category of product to the industry.
Henry Stone and everyone at TK Records loved the augmented version Recorded at Studio Center Recording Studios. After hearing it, Brown and Stone made the album deal and settled on a six-month deadline to write new material and record the album.
Brown also photographed the album's somewhat controversial cover and revealed, in a 1978 interview in Rolling Stone, that he had created the cover's nude model out of cardboard, sheer fabric and ribbons. Until then, no one ever suspected it was not a real person.
Music career (1977-85)
Late in 1977, TK Records announced that sales of the 12” version of "Do Ya Wanna Get Funky With Me" had reached the million dollar mark making it the first gold 12” single in history. Before too long the album went gold as well.
Billboard Magazine’s Year End #1 Awards for 1978 named Brown the #1 new male album artist, #3 new album artist and #10 pop male artist. Also #11 pop male album artist, #16 soul artists and #11 soul albums. Cash Box Magazine’s Year End Awards issue for 1978 named Brown #1Top Male Single Vocalist, #1 Top New Male Single Vocalist and #2 Top Male Album Vocalist along with #3 Crossover R&B Male.
The 1978 Record World Magazine Disco Awards named Brown Outstanding New Performer, Top New Male Vocalist and Top Male Vocalist. He was also nominated by NARAS (The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) in 1978 for a Grammy Award for best R&B Vocal Performance for the song Dance With Me. Dance With Me also included a guest vocal performance by Betty Wright. Also in 1978, Brown's single "Crank It Up" peaked in the Billboard Disco Chart at #4.
His first professional performance came on the American Bandstand television show, hosted by Dick Clark. That year, Brown also took part in the filming of a television special to promote the upcoming movie Foul Play with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. He also filmed a segment for the television show 60 minutes showing the process of how a song is actually recorded in the recording studio. Later years saw him performing on the Mike Douglas Show, American Bandstand and as a presenter on the American Music Awards. On tour in 1978, Brown and his band (now with additional members Keith Anderson, drums, Joe Guzzo, guitar, Mike Hllinger, keyboards and Wildflower, background vocals) played venues as diverse as New York's Bottom Line and Madison Square Garden.
On Brown's second album (recorded at Studio Center and Criteria Recording studios in North Miami, Florida), Stargazer, he was joined by Laura Taylor and Dan Hartman singing background vocals on the song "It's Alright". In an interview with Claes Widlund (Disco Guy of www.disco-disco.com), Brown recalled, "Having Dan Hartman join me singing background vocals for my album was great fun. Then there was the completely unexpected, late night visit by Eartha Kitt. To this day I'm not sure why she decided to drop in." In the same interview, Joe Guzzo commented saying, "Peter was from a more sophisticated background than some of us others in the band. He was a very intelligent and talented person, and he was more of a quiet person most of the time. He would always appear to think and pause before his sentences came out. He was very serious about his music and was not a wild party animal on the road."
In 1980, Brown released another charting dance song (#6 on Billboard's Disco Chart) called "Can't Be Love - Do It To Me Anyway", which was only released as a 12" single and never appeared on an album. The initial success of his career was soon overshadowed by legal disputes and the eventual bankruptcy of TK Records. After the dust cleared he was able to sign a new record contract with Warner Brothers with the help of a new management team, Wiesner/DeMann Entertainment. The 1983 album was called Back To The Front and was produced by Brown with executive producer Bob Gaudio (The Four Seasons) and recorded at Gaudio/Valli Recording Studios in Hollywood California. Featured are musical guests Michael Brecker (saxophone) and Michael Boddicker (synthesizers). From this album, the song Baby Gets High reached #6 on Billboard's Disco Chart. Brown remained with Freddy DeMann after he started a solo management company whose clients included Madonna and Michael Jackson.
In 1985, Brown co-wrote "Material Girl", which became one of Madonna's biggest hits and signature song. It also made Brown's music publishing company, Minong Publishing one of the year's top music publishers. Brown recalled, "We were trying to write a song for her and we were brainstorming for some musical direction that seemed to suit her. I was driving home when I started humming the chorus to a song. I could hear the whole thing in my head as if it were a finished record. It was all there in a flash, music and lyrics. Living in a material world, living in a material world. It is the one and only time a song has come to me like that - like a gift from heaven. I remember forcing myself to sing it over and over while I made my way home so as not to become distracted by something else and forget it completely. When I got home I quickly played and sang it into a recorder to lock it in. There was her song."
Brown also wrote a song for Agnetha Faltskog titled "Maybe It Was Magic". Peter Cetera from the group Chicago was producing her solo album I Stand Alone, and liked the song. Brown also wrote "East Meets West" for the Japanese group Sandii And The Sunsetz. Brown's final hit was "They Only Come Out At Night" which hit the number one slot on Billboard Magazine's Dance Chart in April 1984. Brown's fourth and final album was titled Snap and was recorded at Pumpkin Recording Studios in Oak Lawn Illinois, owned by Gary Loizzo, who was a former member of The American Breed and sang their hit "Bend Me Shape Me" in 1968. This album contained the song "Zie Zie Won't Dance" which spawned Brown's music video by the same name. The video, filmed in London, was nominated for best video (special effects, art direction and editing) along with videos by Madonna and Bruce Springsteen at the second MTV Music Video Awards in 1985.
In the late 1980s a severe case of tinnitus prompted Brown to quit the music business in an attempt to preserve his damaged hearing. He began a design company which headed the award-winning redesign of the Chicago Board Options Exchange Internet site, among other wide ranging design and architectural projects.
Today, Brown continues an entrepreneurial life from his home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
- 1977 - A Fantasy Love Affair
- 1979 - Stargazer
- 1983 - Back to the Front
- 1984 - Snap
- 1998 - Get Funky With Me: The Best of the TK Years
- "Do You Wanna Get Funky with Me" - 1977 (US #18, US R&B #3, UK #43)
- "Dance With Me" - 1978 (US #8, R&B #5, UK #57)
- "You Should Do It" - 1978 (US #54, R&B #54)
- "Crank It Up (Funk Town)" - 1979 (US #86, R&B #9)
- "Stargazer" - 1979 (US #59)
- "Love In Our Hearts" - 1980
- "Can't Be Love-Do It To Me Anyway" - 1980 (R&B #74)
- "Baby Gets High" - 1982 (R&B #49)
- "Overnight Sensation" - 1983
- "They Only Come Out At Night" - 1984
- "(Love Is Just) The Game" - 1984
- "Zie Zie Won't Dance" - 1985
- List of Number 1 Dance Hits (United States)
- List of artists who reached number one on the US Dance chart
- Information was gathered from personal records and private journals.
- Edited excerpts from Random Notes (copyright 2002, Mingong Enterprises, Inc)