BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

Not a rock artist by trade, but rather a bluesman whose primary job early in his career was as a member of rocker Amos Milburn’s road band, The Chickenshackers, thus giving him a more tangible connection to rock ‘n’ roll through that alone.

Brown wasn’t born in Texas, as his nickname would suggest, but rather Arkansas in 1928 where he was raised by a blind father who played music on street corners after losing his sight while employed by the railroads. Brown also worked in that field for awhile as a teen but upon moving to Houston in the 1940’s he made music his main occupation, gaining a reputation as an excellent guitarist whose work was heavily influenced by jazz legend Charlie Christian, thereby making him stand out in the blues clubs he frequented.

When Amos Milburn, a Houston native who’d moved to Los Angeles where he became one of the first rock stars, began scoring his first hits in 1948 he recruited Brown to join the band he was putting together to take on the road, as his records had featured top notch session musicians laying down their parts behind Milburn’s piano and who were therefore unavailable for touring.

Brown put aside his whatever solo aspirations in the blues he had and became a valuable asset to one of the top rock acts in the country, remaining with Milburn well into the 1950’s and appearing on his records frequently starting in 1949 when the touring outfit got their chance to play in the studio as well.

During this time however Brown did begin recording on his own, cutting sides for Modern as The Don Juan Trio with non-Milburn associates, and then under his own name for Atlantic with some of Milburn’s band – and Amos himself in tow – while the group was in New York.

Brown did a three year hitch in the Army before heading out on his own and making Houston his home base, doing session work for the big local label, Duke/Peacock, backing the likes of Junior Parker and Bobby “Blue” Bland, for whom he wrote the enduring anthem “Two Steps From The Blues”. Yet by 1963 with the blues market losing much of its commercial potency Brown stepped away from music and worked a series of manual labor jobs for the next thirty years, playing music only as a sideline, mostly jam sessions in local Houston clubs with other former artists such as rock pioneer Goree Carter who similarly was unable to find work as a musician in changing times.

By the 1990’s however another blues renaissance which focused on vintage artists in new settings coaxed him out of retirement and he went on to make a couple of well-received albums and appeared at blues festivals to great acclaim.

Though he certainly deserves to be far better known for his blues work, Texas Johnny Brown had a definite presence in early rock with Milburn of as well as a few sides of his own. Ironically when Brown died of cancer at the age of 85 in 2013 he passed away just days after Bobby “Blue” Bland, with whom he’ll always be associated and who was another figure who kept a hand in both blues and rock over his career.
 
 
TEXAS JOHNNY BROWN DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

A LONG TIME
(Modern 20-654; January, 1949)
Credited as The Don Juan Trio… A captivating ethereal record with sparse accompaniment by two slow guitars and a haunting female responsorial voice to Brown’s forlorn lead – an experimental effort where the experiment paid off in spades. (8)

THE BLUES ROCK
(Atlantic 876; May, 1949)
Even with the all-star band of Amos Milburn backing their regular guitarist Brown, the record never rises above merely being serviceable, featuring decent but hardly great solos from Brown, Don Wilkerson and Milburn himself in this throwaway performance. (4)

BOW-WOW!
(Aladdin 3034; October, 1949)
As sideman for… Amos Milburn. It’s Brown’s guitar which anchors the second half of this instrumental from a session which marked the first time Milburn’s road band was allowed to cut tracks in the studio with their leader. (6)

LET’S MAKE CHRISTMAS MERRY, BABY
(Aladdin 3037; October, 1949)
As sideman for… Amos Milburn. (8)

REAL PRETTY MAMA BLUES
(Aladdin 3038; November, 1949)
As sideman for… Amos Milburn. (9)