Born Roy James Brown, 10 September 1920 (!), Kidder, Caldwell County, Louisiana
Roy Brown once told an interviewer that he was born on September 10, 1925, in New Orleans. Everybody has always taken this for granted, but not so Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc, whose magnificent 600-page book "Blues : A Regional Experience" was published in May 2013. They have researched the birth and death dates / locations of some 3400 (!) blues artists on the basis of official US documents, like the US Census and birth and marriage certificates. It turns out that Roy Brown was five years older than he pretended to be. And he wasn't born in New Orleans either.
Roy Brown has been called "a blues singer's blues singer". He was a pioneer in using the gospel cry ('melisma') in blues, following Dinah Washington. He has been a major influence on singers such as Bobby 'Blue' Bland, B.B. King, Clyde McPhatter, Little Milton, James Brown and Jackie Wilson.
However, Brown didn't start singing the blues until he was in his mid- twenties. In 1943, after a short boxing career in California, he entered a talent contest at L.A.'s famous Million Dollar Theatre, winning first prize with a Bing Crosby imitation. For some years Crosby remained Roy's biggest musical influence, until Brown found out that he could make more money with the new jump blues style. By 1946 he was living in Galveston, Texas, where he formed his first band, the Mellowdeers. Around this time he wrote "Good Rockin' Tonight", his most famous song, later recorded by Elvis Presley and many others. In need of some ready cash, Roy tried to sell the song to Wynonie Harris, when that singer came to New Orleans in 1947. Initially Harris wasn't interested, though he would later record it himself. But singer / pianist Cecil Gant went wild over "Good Rockin' Tonight", called Jules Braun of DeLuxe Records and had Roy sing the song over the telephone in the middle of the night. Braun signed Roy to DeLuxe and the song was recorded in July 1947 in New Orleans. Though it was a steady seller, it didn't enter the R&B charts until June 1948, spending one week at # 13. By that time the Wynonie Harris cover on King was at # 1. Still, this was the start of Brown's meteoric rise to fame. Between October 1948 and December 1951 he registered thirteen R&B Top 10 hits, including "Long About Midnight" (# 1), "Rockin' At Midnight" (# 2), "Boogie At Midnight" (# 3), "Hard Luck Blues" (# 1), "Love Don't Love Nobody" (# 2) and "Cadillac Baby" (# 6). During this period, Roy Brown and his Mighty Mighty Men were the most booked R&B combo in the USA.
DeLuxe was purchased by Syd Nathan of King Records in 1951 and from 1953 until 1955 his records came out on King. Though there were no further chart entries, Brown sold well enough to keep King interested. Then came rock n roll and suddenly Roy Brown's music was terribly outdated. Thanks to Dave Bartholomew, he was signed by Imperial and did the first session for his new label on September 27, 1956. The resulting single, "Saturday Night", with Fats Domino-styled backing, was a great rocker, though Roy himself hated it. For the next session, in early 1957, Bartholomew chose two fast-rising rockabilly hits, "Party Doll" (Buddy Knox) and "I'm Stickin' With You" (Jimmy Bowen) for Roy to cover. These songs were totally unsuited to Brown's style and I find them painful to listen to, but nevertheless, "Party Doll" returned him to the charts (# 13 R&B, # 89 pop). From the same session came "Let the Four Winds Blow" (originally recorded by Dave Bartholomew in 1955 and a hit for Fats Domino in 1961) and here Roy sounds much more relaxed. It was to be his last hit (# 5 R&B, # 29 pop). The final Imperial date took place in March 1958 and produced a real gem in the shape of "Hip Shakin' Baby" from the pen of the Burnette Brothers (Johnny and Dorsey), which came as close as any black singer did to the white rockabilly sound.
His 1957 success put Roy back on the road as a member of many R&B package shows. Returning to King in 1959, he cut some good sides, but they failed to sell. In 1960-61 he recorded four singles for the Home of the Blues label from Memphis (of which the storming "Rocking All the Time" was surprisingly good). From there, it was the familiar story of label hopping and securing a deal wherever and whenever he could. For several years in the 1960s, Brown was a door-to-door salesman, selling encyclopedias.
A strong performance at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival, a new album on ABC/Bluesway in 1973 and compilations of his prime recordings on the Swedish label Route 66 in the late 1970s revitalised his career. He performed with increasing frequency, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and Japan. His return to New Orleans after 21 years (spring 1981), to sing at the Jazz and Heritage Festival was applauded by fans and colleagues alike.
But a few weeks later he was dead. Roy Brown died from a heart attack on May 25, 1981 at the Pacoima Lutheran Memorial Hospital, near his home in the San Fernando Valley. He was sixty years old, not 55, as every other biography will tell you.
More info :
CD's (all UK releases) :
Discography (singles) : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/roybrown.htm
Acknowledgements : Jeff Hannusch, Pete Welding, John Broven, Dave Penny, Eric LeBlanc.
Dik, July 2013
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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