BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

One of many artists from the early 1950’s who seemed poised for stardom based on their initial records which hit big, but bad luck conspired against him and took him out of action for too long for him to make up the missed time after which he survived on the margins of the music industry as the scene moved on without him.

Born in 1931 into a religious family Brown found the majority of his musical inspiration from outside the church and dropped out of college in 1949 to pursue a career in entertainment. Though he’d go on in time to do comedy as well, singing was his primary occupation throughout his life, something he was able to sustain thanks in large part to his output during his very first year in the business.

He was signed first to Savoy Records and cut four sides in his hometown of Atlanta, reportedly backed by The Griffin Brothers who recorded for Dot Records at the time. While these sides weren’t major hits, though the first sold well locally, they were good records and Brown impressed The Griffin Brothers who brought him on board with them at Dot Records soon after.

That’s where his career took off with back to back releases that stormed the charts, the first making the Top Ten nationally while the second hit Number One. Everything seemed to be falling into place for him, he was on a small but successful label that could devote the proper resources to promoting him and making sure his releases were well distributed, he had one of the best bands in all of rock behind him and having written “Weepin’ And Cryin” – and others – he was able to take control over the direction of his own music.

But then in 1952 Brown was drafted and while his musical abilities allowed him to avoid combat in Korea, as instead he worked entertaining troops, the time away from the scene meant that when he was discharged he had to pick up and start over.

For one thing The Griffin Brothers show which had centered around Brown and female star Margie Day had ended when Day left later in 1952 and The Griffins themselves would go their separate ways in 1954. Meanwhile Dot Records was increasingly moving in a pop direction and Brown’s own manager had hired someone else to tour under his name unbeknownst to him.

He was still enough of a name to get releases on some sizable labels for the rest of the 1950’s, among them King and Imperial, but no further success on record and settled for a time in Chicago where he was able to subsist on club work. For a time he even worked as a drummer with Ike Turner, but it was his one chart topper that was still enough to draw in patrons and keep him employed. But as that got further and further in the rear view mirror Brown turned to comedy in the 1960’s and struck big with a routine called I Ain’t Lyin’ which resulted in a string of comedy records that were successful in that idiom.

He never gave up singing and as with many older black rockers he was increasingly welcome at blues festivals by the 2000’s, where as vibrant as ever he became well regarded for his showmanship, even getting to guest on records by younger artists and having his hometown declare a day in his honor in September 2015. In March the next year Brown passed away at the age of 84, obviously not forgotten like so many of his peers from rock’s first half dozen years.

But in the end it was that brief two year window with The Griffin Brothers where he was a budding star full of promise that remains his claim to fame.
 
 
TOMMY BROWN DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

ATLANTA BOOGIE
(Regent 1030; February, 1951)
As a way to introduce yourself to the record buying public this is sure to get their attention as it’s a loud, hard-charging ode to hedonistic rocking which may lack subtly but doesn’t seem to mind, as Brown’s exuberance is matched by The Griffin Brothers behind him every step of the way. (7)

THE HOUSE NEAR THE RAILROAD TRACK
(Regent 1030; February, 1951)
Just as frantic as the top side but far too repetitive both lyrically and musically which makes this a record that values style over substance, though admittedly that go-for-broke style is still potent enough to turn some heads. (5)

TRA-LA-LA
(Dot 1060; June, 1951)
Brown manages to put this over better than Tommy Ridgley did on Dave Bartholomew’s original because he tones the intensity down allowing the rhythmic melody to dominate while The Griffin Brothers provide strong support. (7)

V-8 BABY
(Savoy 813; August, 1951)
A slightly better idea than record as Brown’s performance is suitably energetic but The Griffin Brothers behind him start off in low gear driving an outdated model in the horn arrangement before finally getting up to speed by the sax solo. (5)

DOUBLE FACED DEACON
(Savoy 813; August, 1951)
A very good idea that pulls no punches with some humorous and on point lyrics is done in by Brown’s aggrieved reading of the song which overshadows the humor of the record which is further hurt by a weak arrangement that adds nothing worthwhile. (4)

WEEPIN’ & CRYIN’
(Dot 1071; November, 1951)
A Number One hit, the record on which Brown made name and reputation is actually something of an outlier, a gimmicky song which is more notable for his constant crying than for the story or the rest of the performance… influential but non-essential. (5)