Roy Brown (blues musician)
|Birth name||Roy James Brown|
September 10, 1925|
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
|Died||May 25, 1981
San Fernando, California, United States
|Genres||Blues, Jump Blues, R&B, Rockabilly|
Roy James Brown (September 10, 1925 – May 25, 1981) was an American R&B singer, songwriter and musician, who had a significant influence on the early development of rock and roll and changed the direction rhythm and blues was headed in. His original song and hit recording "Good Rocking Tonight" was covered by Wynonie Harris, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Pat Boone, James Brown, the Doors, and the rock group Montrose. Brown was the first singer in recording history to sing R&B songs with a gospel-steeped delivery, which was then considered taboo by many churches. In addition, his melismatical pleading, vocal style influenced such notable artists as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Little Richard.
Early life and education
Brown was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on September 10, 1925. As with most R&B singers, he started singing gospel music in the church. His mother was an accomplished singer and church organist. After a move to Los Angeles some time in the 1940s, and a brief period spent as a professional boxer in the welterweight category, he won a singing contest in 1945 at the Million Dollar Theater covering "There's No You", originally recorded by Bing Crosby. In 1946, Brown moved to Galveston, Texas, where he sang in Joe Coleman's group performing mostly songs from the Hit Parade, in a club called the Club Granada. His numbers included a song he wrote entitled "Good Rocking Tonight". After being rejected by the Armed Forces because of flat feet, he secured his first major job in a Shreveport, Louisiana club singing mostly pop ballads such as "Stardust" and "Blue Hawaii". The owner of Bill Riley's Palace Park hired him, as Brown told a Blues Unlimited interviewer, because of his appeal as "a Negro singer who sounds white." It was at the Palace Park that Brown started developing a blues repertoire, learning contemporary R&B tunes such as "Jelly Jelly" (recorded by Billy Eckstine). He returned to New Orleans in 1947, where he performed at The Dew Drop Inn.
Brown was a big fan of blues singer Wynonie Harris. When Harris appeared in town, Brown tried but failed to interest Harris in listening to "Good Rocking Tonight." Dejected, Brown approached another blues singer, Cecil Gant who was appearing at another club in town. Brown introduced his song, and Gant had Brown sing it over the telephone to the president of De Luxe Records, Jules Braun, reportedly at 4:00 in the morning. Brown was signed to a recording contract immediately. Brown recorded the song in a jump blues style with a swing beat. It was released in 1948 and reached #13 on the US Billboard R&B chart. Ironically, Wynonie Harris covered it and hit the top of Billboard's R&B chart later in 1948. Presley also covered the song for Sun Records in 1954; later re-released on RCA Victor when his recording contract was sold to that record label in 1956.
Brown continued to make his mark on the R&B charts, scoring 14 hits from mid-1948 to late 1951 with De Luxe, including "Hard Luck Blues" (his biggest seller in 1950), "Love Don't Love Nobody", "Rockin' at Midnight," "Boogie at Midnight," "Miss Fanny Brown," and "Cadillac Baby", making him, along with Harris, one of the top R&B performers for those three years.
After his popularity peaked, Brown began to experience a lull in his career. Doo-wop and R&B groups were quickly gaining popularity as the standard sound of R&B in the early to mid-1950s. The decline of his fortunes coincided with his winning a lawsuit against King Records for unpaid royalties in 1952, one of the few African American musicians to do so in the 1950s. This has led some, such as author Nick Tosches (in his book Unsung Heroes of Rock 'N' Roll, which contained a chapter on Brown) to believe that Brown may have been blacklisted. Brown's other misfortunes included trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. When confronted by the government for unpaid taxes he owed, he approached Elvis Presley for help. Presley wrote him a check on a brown paper bag, but it wasn't enough to keep him out of jail. Brown did a little prison time for tax evasion.
Brown had a brief comeback through Imperial Records in 1957. Working with Dave Bartholomew, Brown returned to the charts with the original version of "Let the Four Winds Blow", co-written with Fats Domino, who would later have a hit with it.
He returned to King Records where his popularity ground down to a low by 1959, but he sporadically managed to find work and do some recording through the 1960s, making appearances where ever he was wanted. To supplement his income, Brown sold the rights to "Good Rocking Tonight". "I was selling door to door," he once reminisced, referring to his stint as an encyclopedia salesman.
Later life and death
In the late 1970s, a compilation album of his old work brought about a minor revival of interest. In 1978 he had a successful tour in Scandinavia following the releases of Laughing But Crying and Good Rocking Tonight. Shortly before his death he performed at the Whisky A Go-Go in West Hollywood, California and headlined the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1981.
Brown died of a heart attack, at Pacoima Lutheran Memorial Hospital, near his home in the San Fernando Valley on May 25, 1981. He was 55 years old. The Reverend Johnny Otis conducted the funeral. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame the same year.
Two of Brown's songs, "Butcher Pete, Pt. 1" and "Mighty Mighty Man" are featured in the 2008 video game, Fallout 3. "Butcher Pete, Pt. 1," "Butcher Pete, Pt. 2", "Good Rockin' Tonight," and "Mighty Mighty Man" are featured in the 2015 sequel, Fallout 4.
|1948||"Good Rocking Tonight"||–||13|
|"'Long About Midnight"||–||1|
|1949||"Rainy Weather Blues" / "'Fore Day in the Morning"||–||5 / 6|
|"Rockin' at Midnight"||–||2|
|"Miss Fanny Brown"||–||8|
|"Please Don't Go (Come Back Baby)"||–||9|
|"Boogie at Midnight"||–||3|
|1950||"Hard Luck Blues"||–||1|
|"Love Don't Love Nobody"||–||2|
|"Cadillac Baby" / "'Long About Sundown"||–||6 / 8|
|"Bar Room Blues"||–||6|
|"Let The Four Winds Blow"||29||5|
Original 10" shellac (78rpm) and 7" vinyl (45rpm) releases
- Gold Star 636 Deep Sea Diver/Bye Baby Bye −1947
- DeLuxe 1093 Good Rocking Tonight/Lolly Pop Mama −1947
- DeLuxe 1098 Special Lesson No. 1/Woman's A Wonderful Thing −1947
- DeLuxe 1107 Roy Brown Boogie/Please Don't Go (Come Back Baby) -1947
- DeLuxe 1128 Mighty Mighty Man/Miss Fanny Brown −1947
- DeLuxe 1154 Long About Midnight/Whose Hat Is That −1948
- DeLuxe 1166 All My Love Belongs To You/Ebony Rhapsody (B-side by Ethel Morris) -1948
- DeLuxe 3093 Good Rocking Tonight/Lolly Pop Mama −1950 reissue [note: also issued on Miltone 3093]
- DeLuxe 3098 Special Lesson No. 1/Woman's A Wonderful Thing −1950 reissue
- DeLuxe 3107 Roy Brown Boogie/Please Don't Go (Come Back Baby) -1950 reissue
- DeLuxe 3128 Mighty Mighty Man/Miss Fanny Brown −1950 reissue
- DeLuxe 3154 Long About Midnight/Whose Hat Is That −1950 reissue [note: also issued on Miltone 3154]
- DeLuxe 3166 All My Love Belongs To You/Ebony Rhapsody (B-side by Ethel Morris) -1950 reissue
- DeLuxe 3189 Miss Fanny Brown Returns/Roy Brown Boogie −1948
- DeLuxe 3198 Fore Day in the Morning/Rainy Weather Blues −1948 [note: also issued on Miltone 3198]
- DeLuxe 3212 Rockin' At Midnight/Judgement Day Blues −1949
- DeLuxe 3226 Please Don't Go (Come Back Baby)/Riding High −1949
- DeLuxe 3300 Boogie at Midnight/The Blues Got Me Again −1949
- DeLuxe 3301 Butcher Pete, Part 1/Butcher Pete, Part 2 -1949
- DeLuxe 3302 I Feel That Young Man's Rhythm/End of My Journey −1949
- DeLuxe 3304 Hard Luck Blues/New Rebecca −1950
- DeLuxe 3306 Dreaming Blues/Love Don't Love Nobody −1950
- DeLuxe 3308 Long About Sundown/Cadillac Baby −1950
- DeLuxe 3311 Double Crossin' Woman/Teen Age Jamboree −1951
- DeLuxe 3312 Sweet Peach/Good Man Blues −1951
- DeLuxe 3313 Beautician Blues/Wrong Woman Blues −1951
- DeLuxe 3318 Train Time Blues/Big Town −1951
- DeLuxe 3319 Bar Room Blues/Good Rockin' Man −1951
- DeLuxe 3323 Brown Angel/I've Got The Last Laugh Now −1952
- King 4602 Hurry Hurry Baby/Travelin' Man −1953
- King 4609 Grandpa Stole My Baby/Money Can't Buy Love −1953
- King 4627 Mr. Hound Dog's in Town/Gamblin' Man −1953
- King 4637 Old Age Boogie, Part 1/Old Age Boogie, Part 2 -1953
- King 4654 Laughing But Crying/Crazy Crazy Women −1953
- King 4669 Caldonia's Wedding Day/A Fool in Love −1953
- King 4684 Midnight Lover Man/Letter From Home −1953
- King 4689 Everything's Alright/Lonesome Lover −1953
- King 4704 Bootleggin' Baby/Trouble at Midnight −1954
- King 4715 Up Jumped The Devil/This Is My Last Goodbye −1954
- King 4722 Don't Let It Rain/No Love at All −1954
- King 4731 Ain't It A Shame/Gal From Kokomo −1954
- King 4743 Worried Life Blues/Black Diamond −1954
- King 4761 Fannie Brown Got Married/Queen of Diamonds −1954
- King 4816 Shake 'Em Up Baby/Letter To Baby −1955
- King 4834 She's Gone Too Long/My Little Angel Child −1955
- Imperial 5422 Saturday Night (That's My Night)/Everybody -1956
- Imperial 5427 Party Doll/I'm Sticking With You −1957
- Imperial 5439 Let The Four Winds Blow/Diddy-Y-Diddy-O -1957
- Imperial 5455 I'm Convicted of Love/I'm Ready To Play -1957
- Imperial 5469 The Tick of the Clock/Slow Down Little Eva −1957
- Imperial 5489 Ain't Gonna Do It/Sail on Little Girl −1958
- Imperial 5510 Hip Shakin' Baby/Be My Love Tonight −1958
- Imperial 5969 Let The Four Winds Blow/Diddy-Yi-Diddy-Yo -1963 reissue
- King 5178 La-Dee-Dah-Dee/Melinda -1959
- King 5207 Rinky Dinky Doo/I Never Had It So Good −1959
- King 5218 Good Looking And Foxy Too/Hard Luck Blues −1959
- King 5247 School Bell Rock/Ain't No Rocking No More −1959
- King 5333 Ain't Got No Blues Today/Adorable One −1960
- King 5521 Mighty Mighty Man/Good Man Blues −1962
- Home of the Blues 107 A Man with the Blues/Don't Break My Heart −1960
- Home of the Blues 110 Rocking All The Time/Tired of Being Alone −1960
- Home of the Blues 115 Sugar Baby/Oh So Wonderful −1961
- Home of the Blues 122 Rock And Roll Jamboree/I Need A Friend −1961
- Summit 1001 She's Alright/Let The Four Winds Blow −1963
- ABC-Bluesway 61002 New Orleans Women/Standing on Broadway (Watching The Girls) -1967
- Gert 11123 Baby It's Love/Going Home −1968
- Gert 400 The Message/Great Casaboo −1968
- Tru-Love 448 Good Sweet Loving/Separation Blues −1968
- Tru-Love 449 I'm Making Love/Rocks Is My Pillow −1968
- Connie 303/304 Young Blood Twist/I Love A Woman −1969
- Friendship 701 It's My Fault Darling/Love For Sale −1970
- Mercury 73166 Love For Sale/It's My Fault Darling −1970 reissue
- Mercury 73219 Hunky Funky Woman/Mail Man Blues −1971
- Mobile Fidelity Productions MFP-2 in the Eyes of My People/You've Got A Friend −1972
- Topflight 103 Hard Times/Separation Blues −19??
LP releases of note
- King #536 Rock 'N' Roll Dance Party (various artists including Roy Brown) -rel. 1956
- King #607 Battle of the Blues (album shared with Wynonie Harris) -rel. 1958
- King #627 Battle of the Blues, Volume 2 (album shared with Wynonie Harris) -rel. 1959
- King #668 Battle of the Blues, Volume 4 (album shared with Eddie Cleanhead Vinson and Wynonie Harris) -rel. 1959
- King #956 [2LP] Roy Brown Sings 24 Hits -rel. 1966
- ABC-Bluesway #BLS-6056 Hard Times: The Classic Blues Of Roy Brown -rel. 1973
- King #KS-1130 Hard Luck Blues -rel. 1976
- Gusto #GD-5036X [2LP] Hard Luck Blues -rel. 1976
- Route 66 #KIX-2 Laughing But Crying (rec. 1947–1959) -rel. 1977
- Route 66 #KIX-6 Good Rocking Tonight (rec. 1947–1954) -rel. 1978
- Friendship #RB-701 We Came To Party -rel. 1978
- Faith #91020 Cheapest Price in Town -rel. 1978
- Solid Smoke #SS-8009 San Francisco Blues Festival, Vol. 1 (album shared with Lowell Fulson, one side each) -rel. 1981
- Mr. R&B #104 Saturday Nite (rec. 1952–1959) -rel. 1984
- Route 66 #KIX-26 I Feel That Young Man's Rhythm (rec. 1947–1955) -rel. 1985
- Charly #CRB-1093 Boogie at Midnight (rec. 1947–1959) -rel. 1985
CD releases of note
- Ace #CHD-459 Mighty Mighty Man! (rec. 1953–1955 and 1959/all King material) -rel. 1993
- Rhino #71545 Good Rocking Tonight: The Best Of Roy Brown (rec. 1947–1957) -rel. 1994
- Capitol-EMI #31743 The Complete Imperial Recordings (rec. 1956-1958/all Imperial material) -rel. 1995
- Classics (Blues & Rhythm Series) #5021 The Chronological Roy Brown 1947–1949 -rel. 2002
- Classics (Blues & Rhythm Series) #5036 The Chronological Roy Brown 1950–1951 -rel. 2002
- Classics (Blues & Rhythm Series) #5090 The Chronological Roy Brown 1951–1953 -rel. 2004
- Collectables #2882 Rockin' At Midnight: The Very Best Of Roy Brown (rec. 1947–1959) -rel. 2004
- Ace #CHD-1072 Good Rockin' Brown: The King & DeLuxe Acetate Series (rec. 1947/all DeLuxe material) -rel. 2005
- Fantastic Voyage #FVDD-123 [2CD] Good Rockin' Man: The Definitive Collection (rec. 1947–1960) -rel. 2011
- List of blues musicians
- List of jump blues musicians
- List of artists who reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart
- West Coast blues
- Doc Rock. "The 1980s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
- "Roy Brown". Allmusic. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
- "Very Best of Roy Brown: Rockin' at Midnight CD Album". Cduniverse.com. August 17, 2004. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
- Back cover of We Came To Party, presumably by Roy Brown himself
- Honkers And Shouters. The Golden Years of Rhythm And Blues. Crowell-Collier Press, New York, 1978, p. 100
- Gérard Herzhaft; Paul Harris; Brigitte Debord; Jerry Haussler; Anton J. Mikofsky. Encyclopedia of the Blues.
- Liner notes, The Best of Roy Brown, Rhino Records, R2 71545, by Arthur Fein, Hollywood, August 1993
- "Roy Brown – Rock n Roll Archive". Rocknrollshow.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
- Palmer, Robert (May 26, 1981). "Obituaries : Roy Brown A Pioneer Rock Singer". The New York Times.
- Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 89. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
- Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. p. 53.