No tags :(

Share it



The reasonably expected lifespan time for all artists is never that long, certainly not nearly as long as the artists themselves envision when starting out, and usually it’s a combination of factors, some in their control and some out of their hands entirely, which will contribute to their inevitable commercial decline.

For Eddie Williams And His Brown Buddies their rise in rock coming from the remnants of a crumbling cocktail blues outfit of renown was unlikely, if not downright implausible, yet their success of late would seem to have answered any and all questions about their ongoing viability. Sure enough as we speak they have a record in the Top Ten on the charts and their drummer got songwriting credit for a record that recently was a #1 hit for another artist, so their position would seem to be as strong as almost anyone in the field.

Naturally this is where their story inevitably winds down.


Still We Parted
When looked back at from a distance entire decades differ radically from one another in perception because you’re taking into account not just the whole ten year period – or twenty years when comparing two different decades – but you’re also focusing on the most memorable individual attributes of those years while largely ignoring the mundane aspects.

Contrary to what’s often been portrayed, not every hit song of the 1950’s was a doo-wop or rockabilly cut, even if those are the dominant images historically, just as psychedelia and soul tend to define the 1960’s, punk and disco characterize the 1970’s, synthesizers are the sounds of the 1980’s and of course everyone in the 1990’s listened to either grunge or gangsta rap… except they didn’t. Not in any of those decades were those narrow parameters the be-all and end-all of the musical frontier.

Though the 1940’s are known historically for the big band sounds and crooners there was obviously a lot more going on under the surface and around the edges musically. Be-Bop, hillbilly and urban blues all emerged in this decade – as did of course rock ‘n’ roll.

Though rock music only existed on record for 28 months of the decade it evolved pretty rapidly during those two-plus years. The jazz remnants that were prevalent in 1947 and early 1948 were gradually pushed aside for new innovations as time went on and when certain advancements found an appreciative audience then others were bound to follow their lead while those who lagged behind the stylistic curve quickly fell by the wayside.

Which brings us back to Eddie Williams And His Brown Buddies. Though their career as a unit was brief (just under one full year), based on the returns for their limited output it has to be deemed a success. Yet it was a success that may have only been possible to achieve IN the late 1940’s where their diverse roots – equal parts cocktail blues and rural blues, pop and jazz, even some country, and of course some scintillating rock ‘n roll thrown in – perfectly embodied the changing times. The longer they tried to span all of those styles in a landscape that was becoming increasingly segregated as the 1950’s dawned the more likely they were to fade away.

We won’t get to test that theory because the group would break up in early 1950 when traveling on tour Eddie Williams’s bass cracked the window in Floyd Dixon’s car and he refused to fork over $25 to have it fixed. A peeved Dixon then dropped them off at the next stop and headed back to Los Angeles on his own, ending the group’s run as an unexpected presence in rock’s early days.

But if their last record released while they were still a unit, You Need Me Now, is any indication as to their musical vision for the future, it’s probably best that Williams was more interested in drinking his Ballentine beer than he was in maintaining harmony in the car as they slowly but surely rode into oblivion.

You Knew I Cared
The music the Brown Buddies put out over the course of 1949 was largely the music of others. Not that they didn’t write some of it themselves mind you, but rather it was all taken in spirit from other acts.

Their debut, Houston Jump, was clearly inspired by – if not plagiarized from – Amos Milburn. Meanwhile drummer Ellis Walsh’s Saturday Night Fish Fry, which became a #1 smash for Louis Jordan rather than The Brown Buddies, had its origins in Big Jay McNeely’s song Road House Boogie. The group’s one big hit, Broken Hearted, was sort of a rural sounding variation on cocktail blues, a Charles Brown song if Brown had never left Texas for The West Coast.

In other words, Eddie Williams And His Brown Buddies could credibly handle all of those forms, yet which of those forms defined them? Not just to audiences but to the group itself?

This is hardly an unimportant question for an act that needed to create and then sustain an image to ensure continued interest from the same core group of listeners. It was the difference between being character actors able to reasonably fill any number of roles on screen and being a leading man who can carry a film by his presence alone.

A screen full of Karl Maldens wasn’t as appealing as having a Marlon Brando or Spencer Tracy on the marquee.

Typical of this uncertain mindset was You Need Me Now an underwhelming effort in the mournful rock ballad arena that doesn’t come any closer to establishing a strong singular identity for the group at a time when the elite in the field – from Wynonie Harris’s hell raising ladies man to McNeely’s dynamic showman and even fellow Supreme Records vocalist Percy Mayfield’s introspective idealist – had long since figured out who they were, what they stood for and who they were trying to reach.

By contrast Eddie Williams, Floyd Dixon and company were building an image that was pliable but nondescript.

When I Wanted You
The standard bearer for downhearted laments delivered in ballad form at this point and time was Charles Brown, who of course Williams had plenty of history with, and there’s probably not much doubt that You Need Me Now was conceived with that prototype in mind. But it’s not Brown that Dixon conjures up in his presentation, but rather Amos Milburn, whose ballads were the rock equivalent of Brown’s work as a cocktail bluesman.

The difference between the two is in found in the trappings. Brown wrapped his music with a delicate piano and gave plenty of space for each instrument’s sparse lines. His voice was similar to Dixon’s, sort of a stuffy nasal baritone, but Brown had a more of a thoughtful elegance to his delivery than Floyd brings to the table here.

Milburn on the other hand had the most flexible voice among them and on ballads he conveyed his urgency or despair through a tone that recalled a high powered engine whining in the starting blocks, unable to fully cut loose but letting everyone know it had the muscle to do so if he was allowed to stomp the pedal. That trait gave Milburn’s slower records an impatient air to them, a sense that he was teetering on the edge of emotional wreckage but fighting against it, whereas Brown was always resigned to his fate and accepting of it.

Come to think of it that’s a pretty good description of the difference between rock and blues themselves. Rock rarely gave in to circumstances beyond its control, choosing instead to fight back with everything they had, whereas the blues expected to go down in defeat and accepted that fate as if it were their lot in life.

Dixon stands unsteadily on the middle ground between the two here. His natural vocal tone is much more reminiscent of Brown and a lot of this is a reasonably effective imitation of that, but he allows himself some moments where he recalls Milburn’s more forceful pleas which not surprisingly are what works best here as well.

The story itself is decent as he’s making a pitch to his ex-girlfriend that is cleverly poised between two extremes – the sad sack demeanor he offers up at times is asking her to take him back in a way that confirms she’s the one dumped him and therefore has all of the power in the fizzled relationship, and yet he’ll flip that balance of power on its head at the same time by telling her that she’d be foolish not to – see the title line – almost as if their reuniting was preordained.

Unfortunately that twist is the extent of the creativity in the lyrics, as the rest of the lines manages to sell the concept short at times by not striving to find better ways to put this across. He’s oddly confident in his desire to get her back, yet he’s keeping the reasons for his confidence to himself and even if SHE knows why – maybe he’s good in bed, maybe she’s a party queen and he’s the only guy who can get her into the best clubs, or maybe they’ve done this act before, breaking up and getting back together, and he knows this time will be no different – the problem is WE don’t know which, if any, of these reasons accounts for his perspective.

For something which has so few lyrics to begin with, mainly due to how interminably Dixon drags each line out, this lack of detail is hard to overcome and before long we grow bored and give up on both him and his girl entirely and start looking for a couple who at least will provide us with more fireworks in their breakups.

It Didn’t Matter Somehow
The other reason why we’re left hanging with the plot is because of the song’s arrangement. To call it sparse would be something of an understatement, it’s almost like a ghost town. Though there aren’t any moments of absolute silence there’s also no time where all of the instruments forcibly make their presence known. Williams and Walsh keep the slowly lurching rhythm from disappearing altogether, yet they don’t for a second alter their approach to snap you to attention.

The rest is taken up by Dixon’s purposefully monotonous prancing piano which fails to shake things up with any quirky solos or shifting rhythms of its own, instead remaining at the same plodding pace that threatens to coax you into dozing off at times.

What saves the record from being completely without flavor is Tiny Webb’s delicate, beautifully played guitar. He’s got the most vibrant instrumental passage to lead it off, though it’s hardly hair-raising by any means, and his later solo is expertly chosen, as if he were a musical connoisseur picking only the choices notes, making it by far the most noteworthy aspect of the entire record.

That it lasts so long however means we never do get around to learning more about the subjects themselves and by the end we really are no closer than we were at the very beginning of discovering their ultimate fate as a couple.

The thing about it though is we don’t much care.

You Left Me
It’s not that we’re cold-hearted and have no concern for other people’s happiness, but it’s just that we haven’t been given any reason to feel invested in them… both as a couple in a story, and despite their rather interesting career as a band, we’ve got little patience for those artists who seem so indecisive with where they want to take their careers.

When they’ve given us the types of records that we appreciate best, the cocky authority of Red Head N’ Cadillac, we were prepared to follow them anywhere. But here they’re giving us something that has only a few qualities we can reasonably admire from a distance but not really appreciate enough to immerse ourselves in.

It’s ironic they named this one You Need Me Now because there’s now so many more artists with a more consistent and exciting vision that we DON’T need to settle for those like Eddie Williams and His Brown Buddies, who instead of making determined grab for our hearts and souls are instead content to be doing just enough to keep their options open going forward.

In 1949 they got away with that, but as the 1950’s come into view OUR options are greater than ever and if they hadn’t broken up at this point it’s a good bet they’d have been left on the side of the road anyway.


(Visit the Artist page of Eddie Williams & His Brown Buddies for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)