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What to do NEXT?

Ahh, the eternal question asked whenever an artist has scored with an utterly original piece of material and now finds themselves needing to capitalize on that success quickly, but also to extend it and hopefully build upon it.

Making Brown’s task here even MORE daunting was the fact that not only was he, Roy Brown, in need of a follow-up record to prove his recent breakthrough wasn’t an aberration or a fluke, but he needed to help prove that the music genre as a whole which that earlier record had unleashed on the public wasn’t simply a passing fad but may actually have legs.

No pressure here then, right?

Ain’t No Hand Me Downs
If music history has shown us anything it’s that recycling a hit formula is not only common, but virtually expected of you within the industry. I believe the technical term is “blatantly ripping off your earlier hit”. But history has also shown that those who do, particularly those who do so by barely altering so much as a vocal inflection, guitar riff or chord pattern, are at risk for quickly dropping from sight, often permanently.

Audiences are much quicker to pick up on a charlatan who doesn’t trust his own creative instincts and who tries to milk a dry cow for another drink. Yet for some reason artists through the years continue to do so.

But should you in fact choose to venture further out stylistically, the question becomes how far will you venture from the original? If you make a complete left turn then the same fans who loved your debut may be left scratching their heads upon hearing the second, as whatever special attributes that first record contained which drew their interest have been shelved in favor of something entirely different… Something that had IT been done first may not have drawn a second look.

For Roy Brown all of this must have been a heady experience. He was a young kid with some valuable experience on the road, singing in clubs, building enough of a name and reputation for himself so that he could continue to earn his living at it within a small region, but it would always be a tenuous living without some recordings to spread his name so that he would draw people in based simply on what they’d heard on a jukebox or radio without ever seeing him in person before.

It’s also important to remember that his initial success in that realm was singing pop songs in the manner of Bing Crosby, the dominant pre-war crooner and in Brown’s case only the audience was different, as he sang that style to black patrons rather than white and indeed it may have been that very reason – the novelty of it – that made his name to begin with. Yet it was with the rhythm numbers he had to include to keep their undivided attention that enabled him to take off when one of those songs became the unquestioned highlight of his shows. That was what led to his recording contract and now, a month after it was released to big sales and lots of clamor around his home base of New Orleans, Brown was rushed back in the studio in October just weeks after his last session to capitalize on it while it was still hot. Expectations certainly had to be high within DeLuxe Records offices and so you’d forgive him then for laying down a mere imitation of it, even if the public would be less forgiving.

And so it was with a certain degree of wariness that you anticipated his next move when it came out as 1947 drew to a close.


I’m Young And I’m In My Prime
If you’d loved Good Rocking Tonight then upon reading the title of this you were either a) excited or b) apprehensive to see Mighty Mighty Man adorning the label, for that was one of the earlier record’s best vocal hooks – “Tonight she’ll know I’m a mighty, mighty man”. Would this be a case of Brown just rehashing the previous song, or would it hopefully at least be picking it up from that point and trying to naturally take it from there?

Thankfully it’s the latter.

But that doesn’t quite mean it’s been improved upon either.

Though it certainly doesn’t deviate much from the melodic prototype laid out in “Rocking”, it’s not a total reprint of it either. If anything Mighty Mighty Man ups the tempo, correctly pinpointing the excitement of the former as one of its prime selling points. But the quickened pace isn’t necessarily making this one MORE exciting in the process, only more frantic, which is not the same thing.

Not surprisingly the instrumental arrangement in terms of what gets prominently featured remains virtually unchanged even though it’s a different band, save Clement Tervalone on trombone. Therein lies the problem. For as strong a record Good Rocking Tonight was, its weakest point was the reliance on swing styled horn charts, particularly the focus on the trumpet in the arrangement. They got away with it because the rest of the song was so invigorating and perhaps even, when looking back in hindsight, its more mannered horns may have helped it seem not quite so alien sounding to virgin ears, allowing the unsuspecting listeners to feel they were in slightly more comfortable surroundings and therefore letting them be wowed by the other aspects of the recording which were decidedly cutting edge.

But by this point – three months after his debut had been released – the need to ease an audience into something new was gone. They’d already responded positively to it, embraced its attitude and presumably, based on that record’s strong sales, craved even more. That’s the time to take another step forward, shedding the most dated aspects of the original breakthrough and head further towards uncharted territory. Now the audience will buy the record because of the artist’s name on the label, so the smart move would be to use that eager anticipation to carve out even more territory in this new land and stake his claim as the undisputed king of rock ‘n’ roll as it took off.

But they don’t. Playing it safe they replicate that earlier feel, much to its detriment.

However a ray of sunshine cuts through the clouds of the dated brass, in that there’s a tenor sax present on this that was absent on his debut, and which actually gets the first solo – rather mild at first, but picking up steam as it goes along, only to be cut off by the other horns, almost as if someone in the studio feared that Leroy “Batman” Rankins was about to go off the rails and forcibly reined him back in. But his mere presence on the record shows that someone – most likely Roy himself, since Rankins was HIS guy – wasn’t averse to experimenting and moving away, if only slightly, from the formula of the first record. So it’s a decided let down when the trumpet takes a second blaring solo that has the effect of turning back the clock to an earlier style. That’s a battle which will have to be settled soon, yesterday’s trumpets vs. tomorrow’s saxophones, and until it is they’re all still in search of the precise formula to take them into the future.


I’m Willing, I’m Able, I’m Frantic
This isn’t quite that formula, but fortunately the one who seemed most sure of his direction was Brown himself.

The lyrics are first rate and a strutting boast of his overall prowess – as a singer? A lover? A bad man on Rampart Street? All of the above??? They even have a great self-reference tossed in – “I gotta gal in town who calls me Good Rockin’ Brown” – in case you were unaware of just who he was referencing throughout this song. Snoop Dogg would be proud.

Best of all is his half-spoken, seemingly ad-libbed, interjection, demanding “Pick up, you gals”, in the midst of a verse which sounds utterly spontaneous, almost like he was having so much fun cutting this that he just couldn’t help himself. It’s the sound of a man who never expected to make it big yet one day wakes up and finds himself on top of the world. However long he thought this ride would last we’ll never know, but by the sound of this he was going to enjoy that ride through town in the flashy car with the top down waving to all his friends as he passed by while rolling down Canal Street as a big shot.

While this record doesn’t necessarily get him any further along that road it also doesn’t slam on the brakes, or worse yet, put the car in reverse as so often happens in these circumstances. With this he may just be idling at a corner now, but the car’s in drive, the tank is full of gas and the engine is purring. Behind the wheel, no longer walking to his next stop, is a singer who may not quite have the exact destination in mind but who at least knows he’s headed somewhere over the horizon and whatever’s out there beckoning to him in the distance looks pretty good from his vantage point.

Keep in mind that he was making this journey without the benefit of any maps so where he was going and where we’d ALL end up was just as much a mystery to him as to anyone else at this stage. Yet now we’re at least comfortable enough to remain in the car with him and see where its headed because if nothing else we know the journey from here on out will be an interesting one to take and we’re all definitely headed in the right direction.


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