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DELUXE 3323; MARCH 1952



Times are changing.

The dominant figures of rock’s first five years are in the process of being replaced on the charts as the second generation of stars now emerging are making the originators of the style – the ones who influenced the current batch no less – anachronistic by comparison.

Wynonie Harris recently saw the final hit of his indelible career fall off the charts over the past few weeks and now Roy Brown’s heyday as a true hit maker has reached the end of the line this winter as well.

Though he’ll score two minor entries late in his career, by then he was just a name from the distant past. Today marks the point where he became a commercial afterthought and it’s up to us to try and figure out why.


I’m Happy Now…?
For three years Roy Brown was if not the top rock act of his era, at least vying for the crown, scoring a dozen hits including two chart toppers during that time while setting the template for the emotional wailing vocals that would fast become a cornerstone of the genre forever more.

However over the last year he scored just two hits, neither rising past #8 and one of them sat on the charts for a lone week. Now granted anything in the Top Ten is still impressive, but when there’s only ten spots to be had and he’s used to going higher for longer, you can see the difference when it comes to commercial impact.

Is this the result of audiences simply moving on, finding new sounds that pique their interest more, possibly the effect of an influx of younger audiences who just are not as interested in a veteran act, no matter how good he may be?

Or has the quality of Brown’s material dropped and fans are becoming less tolerant of second-rate singles when there’s so much more to choose from nowadays?

Well, it’s hard to say. From our perspective he’s released some bangers over the past year, some of which simply fell on deaf ears indicating that his time may have passed which is a natural occurrence that besets all great artists… Bing Crosby, who ironically was Roy’s idol when he was younger, is also seeing his commercial returns fizzle out after two decades as the unassailable king of the mountain, so it happens to everyone.

But then again, at least when it comes to I’ve Got The Last Laugh Now, this is hardly a record that will add to his legacy, something that’s confirmed by the fact that DeLuxe sat on this for more than a year, continually passing it by for “better” options.

So chalk it up to a combination of the two and let’s take it from there.


Don’t Know What To Do
The horns.

How many times have we said it, the horns are what makes or breaks a rock record in the early years and here they come dangerously close to breaking it before the record really even gets up to speed.

Strangely the musicians here are a mix of The Mighty Mighty Men, who were Brown’s first rate touring band led by guitarist Edgar Blanchard, and Tiny Bradshaw’s group which at the time included the great Red Prysock on tenor sax. It’s doubtful Bradshaw was even in the building at the time and so Henry Glover, as usual, was at the controls and plotting out the arrangement (though Blanchard typically did so for The Mighty Mighty Men), but whoever was responsible for the intro was thinking this was 1946 for some reason.

Yes there are two tenors and just one trumpet, but it’s not the instruments themselves that are the issue here, it’s the way in which they’re played… “peppy”.

That’s a dirty word, isn’t it? There’s a smarmy cheerfulness to that kind of playing, an artificiality that you can sense before you even approach them and the horns are exuding it here, dragging your expectations down along with the song.

When Roy comes in the horns recede into the background but he seems to have been infected by whatever disease they were carrying because he sounds just as insincere with his delivery as the horns do with theirs.

It doesn’t help that this is a weird song in many ways, as Roy is explaining how after he was put down by a girl he rebounded quickly and can now say to her I’ve Got The Last Laugh Now.

But if he really did, would he be telling us? Would he even have TIME to tell us, assuming he was getting laid by a half dozen bombshells who replaced his ex-girlfriend in the ensuing months? Chances are, no, he wouldn’t waste his time trying to convince us everything was hunky dory because he’d have moved on in life and never given her a second thought.

So unless you want to take this as a deeper psychological discourse where Brown is actually embodying the guy who is trying in vain to put on a false front to hide his own misery, then you’re probably going to take it at face value and find it sorely lacking conviction with his shallow emotional investment.

Luckily though some of the musicians have a little more conviction in their jobs once they get going.


Yeah, It Gets Good Too!
That annoying opening aside, once Brown is in the forefront the band settles into a more discreet supporting role that doesn’t really distinguish itself during the bulk of the track with their piercing horn retorts, but apparently they were withholding their tricks for the instrumental breaks which is where this starts to redeem itself.

Just when you’re ready to dismiss I’ve Got The Last Laugh Now as a substandard throwaway effort by one and all, Roy suddenly gets religion and yells out “Let’s rock!” whereupon Red Prysock takes him up on that challenge and leaps into the forefront to wrest control of the song back from the unimaginative arrangement.

His searing lines cut through the dross that preceded it and coupled with random exultant cries from Roy himself, the first interlude gets this reasonably back on track.

Of course Brown picks up where he left off and while he seems invigorated by the playing he just witnessed, his performance is still not hitting home with us as much as it should because his resilient attitude can’t help but sound contrived.

But once again it’s a musician to the rescue as Blanchard gets his turn in the spotlight, showing his usual taste and dexterity with a fleet-fingered solo leaning towards the upper register which gives his playing a dramatic tension all its own. Though hardly flashy it’s almost simulating a high wire act without a net, moving quickly but steadily, not looking down while balancing precariously over what seems like a bottomless expanse.

When Brown returns to take us home he’s not likely to change our minds despite renewed fire in his vocals as his lazy string of lyrics down the stretch betray his intent, but by now you’ve more or less accepted the flaws and realize this is just one of those records that has some highs and some lows in equal measure, all of which wind up evening out in the end.

Unfortunately for Roy Brown circa 1952, that’s not going to be enough to keep him in the money.


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