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DELUXE 3313; MAY 1951



A year ago Roy Brown was reaching his peak as an artist, reeling off a string of classic records that ranged from songs of despair to those celebrating life, love and lust featuring brilliant vocals, tight arrangements, dynamic playing with memorable stories and lyrics and so it’s probably inevitable that such a hot streak was going to cool just a little.

His three singles released since then, including this one, all failed to chart which could mean he was not quite clicking creatively and was in a bit of a dry spell, or it could be that audiences just had so many new artists and stylistic advances to take in over the past few months that they merely turned their attention elsewhere.

That’s not so far fetched in theory since the primary means of exposure for rock was still jukeboxes which held only 25 singles at a time, meaning space was tight and without the means to be heard the commercial returns were bound to suffer.

So which is it? A creative slump or a numbers game? Both or neither?


I’ll Be Happy As A King
Putting aside a few dedicated fans who may love this record the broader consensus would probably be that this one failed to live up to the high standards Brown had been setting prior to 1951.

That doesn’t mean it’s dreadful, just that it’s not quite as strong as his usual fare and with so many Roy Brown hits to his credit it’s not surprising that something which fell a little short in that regard might be at risk for being forgotten.

In fact Beautician Blues is certainly more well-known for B.B. King’s 1964 rendition which was a minor hit for him thirteen years after Brown’s original making it one of the rare rock titles that the King Of The Blues recorded and makes for an interesting comparison.

King cut forty seconds off the run time, despite a prominent a guitar solo, and while the arrangement with its pulsing beat and King’s expressive vocals showed how much he was indebted to Roy Brown in general – something he never denied – the song somehow actually seems more suited to King’s blues than Brown’s rock.

But that hardly means that Roy Brown of all people wouldn’t be capable of delivering on a song like this… yet somehow it never fully finds its creative footing.



Works Hard All Day
Since Roy Brown wrote almost all of his own material, including this, it gives us more insight into what his intent was entering into each song.

Sometimes it was the emotional content, sometimes it was the excitement he and the band could stir up and sometimes it was the desire to show off his voice.

Here he wants to show off that voice, at least for starters, which poses an unusual problem for him. It’s not that his voice isn’t worthy of being showcased, but rather that Beautician Blues is hardly the right kind of content for impressing us with that voice.

The opening is far too dramatic for the subject, which is a three and a half minute boast about his girlfriend who washes and cuts hair for a living. While that may be an honest profession that requires genuine skill, it really isn’t worth shouting to the heavens in ecstasy to tell the world about.

If anything the stop-time delivery on the first two lines is so over-the-top it makes it seem like it has to be a joke and in the process detracts from the more appropriate focus which is how horny Brown is and his excitement has nothing to do with her occupation at all. One gets the idea that she could be a serial killer and he’d still be just as eager to get laid and yet the lyrics touts her job itself to the point where it all comes across as ridiculous unless Brown lets on that it’s being sung in jest.

Brown’s voice is as impressive as ever, there’s no getting around that, and if you can allow yourself to sort of put aside how genuine he is about singing her praises this there’s still plenty to enjoy about the performance itself. Brown can make almost anything sound good in a technical sense and that’s true here as well. But when you take what he’s saying at face value – that he’s somehow sincere about this and not trying for laughs – the composition itself falls flat.

How else to explain his claims regarding her making lots of money (washing hair?!?!) and how he’s lucky that he gets to ”meet the finest women from everywhere because my baby straightens their hair”.

The entire story reads like a farce and yet there’s no sign Brown himself is aware of how absurd it all is.

I Wanna Get Somewhere
Maybe you could overlook that pesky fact if the rest of the record obliterated the meaning under a barrage of musical destruction but here too they seem to be at odds with how to best achieve this.

Beautician Blues uses more or less of a stock arrangement with a piano as the main instrument behind the vocals and horns in the breaks between stanzas, all of which is pretty simple but reasonably effective.

What weakens this part is how the band has been enlisted to sing responses to Brown which tells you why they usually had horns in their mouths. If they were more engaging, either lasciviously egging him on to humorously suggest the hanky panky the lyrics largely sidestep, or lustily replying to his lines which would do away with any lightheartedness altogether but would reinforce the sexual connotations themselves, it might work alright, but they just sound clueless and because they’re not great singers their parts lack the vocal prowess to add fuel to the fire.

Worse yet is the instrumental break which repeats this conceptual mistake by using a trumpet for the solo which doesn’t bring any racy connotations into the mix, nor does it have the power to knock you off your feet. The arrangement is too modest and unassuming and if the song is taken literally as Brown bragging about his girl it doesn’t fit, nor does it work if you view it as an elaborate put-on.

You Know What That Means
With all that criticism about almost every facet of the tune it might seem as though it fails miserably as a record, but any time you have Roy Brown at the peak of his powers singing a song it’s bound to leave you with some appreciation for his talents if nothing else.

Yet there’s still this nagging feeling that the man in the middle of the room was the one who didn’t quite understand what he’d come up with, or at least how to best present it.

If you focus on just some of the plot – the parts expressing his pride over having such a beauty – and pass off the rest as him just getting carried away it’s probably far easier to take but that’s not easy to do when the rest of it is so outlandish in its praise for her.

In the end Beautician Blues is too silly a premise to be taken seriously and yet at the same time it’s not funny enough to pay off on that impression.

The same song, same lyrics, same basic arrangement, works much better when B. B. King does it, like he gets the joke that Roy misses. Yet there’s really not that much structural difference in the two versions, just a few vocal inflections that make all the difference.

Maybe it’s just perception… maybe we’ve come to expect more out of Roy Brown than is fair and this is one we’re underrating because of that. It wouldn’t be the first time and sure won’t be the last.

I want to like it more than I do, but every time this plays – every single time – its problems are just as apparent as ever and in the end you can only judge something on the way you hear it, not the way someone else, whether the artist or other fans, wants you to and so from this vantage point it would seem that Brown’s failure to connect in this case was due largely to a record that missed its mark after all.

At least it’s not a permanent condition… or are those the wrong words to say around a beautician?


(Visit the Artist page of Roy Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)