Roy Brown Biography

Roy James Brown 10 September 1925, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, d. 25 May 1981, Los Angeles, California, USA. Brown formed his own gospel quartet, the Rookie Four, and frequently sang in the local church before moving to California in 1942. After two years as a professional boxer, he began entering and winning amateur talent contests with his renditions of the pop songs of his idol, Bing Crosby. He returned to Louisiana in 1945 and formed his first jump band, the Mellodeers, for a long-term residency at the Club Granada in Galveston, Texas. There he worked for some time with Clarence Samuels as a double act, the Blues Twins, and was illicitly recorded by the local Gold Star label. By this time, Brown had eschewed Tin Pan Alley pop for jump blues, and was singing in a highly original style for the time, utilizing his gospel background and his extremely soulful voice.

Returning to New Orleans penniless in 1947, Brown tried in vain to sell a song he had written to the great blues shouter Wynonie Harris. When Harris turned the song down, Brown sang the number with Harris’ band and, legend has it, tore up the house. The song, ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, was soon recorded by Brown for DeLuxe and sold so well throughout the south that, ironically, Wynonie Harris covered it for King Records a year later (both versions have regularly been credited with inventing rock ‘n’ roll and having a seminal influence on the young Elvis Presley). A popular phrase from the song persuaded Brown to rename his combo the Mighty Mighty Men, and he recorded extensively for DeLuxe and, later, King Records between 1947-55, during which time he had further success with such songs as ‘Boogie At Midnight’, ‘Hard Luck Blues’, ‘Love Don’t Love Nobody’, ‘Long About Sundown’ and ‘Trouble At Midnight’. During this phase of his career, the gospel-soul singer wailed about earthy secular subjects (some of them too ribald to be released for 30 years or more) and inspired devotees including B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Jackie Wilson, Little Richard and James Brown.

In 1956, Dave Bartholomew signed Brown to Imperial Records, where he spent his time split successfully between making mediocre Fats Domino -styled records and covering pop rockabilly hits. He moved further towards pop during 1959 at King Records. In the soul era, Brown made a handful of good Willie Mitchell -arranged singles in Memphis for Home Of The Blues. A decade of label-hopping followed, with Brown frequently working with Johnny Otis’ band, until 1977 when a great deal of interest was generated with the release of Laughing But Crying, a collection of vintage tracks issued on Jonas Bernholm’s Route 66 label. The following year, Brown toured Europe to packed houses and rave reviews and returned to the USA to a similar reception. A string of successful nationwide appearances culminated in Brown’s storming return to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April 1981. He died peacefully the following month.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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