Brook Benton (1931-1988) was a prolific and successful R&B/pop/soul/rock and roll singer-songwriter who amassed several R&B as well as pop chart hits particularly from the late 50s to early 60s music era, although he also scored sizable hits up to the 1970s. He wrote or co-wrote many of his big hits (most of them with Clyde Otis) including “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” “The Boll Weevil Song,” “Hotel Happiness,” and “Rainy Night in Georgia.” More on the talented Brook Benton here in this article!
Early life and career
Brook Benton was born Benjamin Franklin Peay in Lugoff, southern California on September 19, 1931. His Methodist upbringing led him to be exposed to gospel music. It is little wonder because his father was a choir master at their local church, where he was also a member. Soon, the young boy also learned to write his own songs.
Peay joined several gospel groups during his stay in New York. On his return to his home state he got to encounter secular music for the first time by joining an R&B vocal group named The Sandmen. Then Peay and the rest of the Sandmen made their journey again to New York in hopes of getting a big break. But after releasing a handful of singles on Okeh Records, the group failed to gain any success. That prodded Peay to embark on a solo career. Okeh’s A&R man Marv Halsman suggested that Peay should change his name to Brook Benton, an advice which the upstarting singer-songwriter followed.
Brook Benton’s success at Mercury
Brook Benton started his career anew by penning songs for other artists such as Nat King Cole, Clyde McPhatter, and Roy Hamilton. He also had a hand in co-producing albums.
As a solo recording artist, Benton enjoyed a minor pop hit through his first single “Million Miles from Nowhere,” before he switched to Mercury label.
Benton’s move to Mercury proved to be a boon for him. His first single there, “It’s Just a Matter of Time” (written by Benton, Belford Hendricks and Clyde Otis) rose to #3 on the Billboard pop chart and also topped the R&B singles chart in 1959. It sold over a million copies and became certified gold. “Endlessly” (1959), also written by Benton and Clyde Otis, peaked at #12 pop and #3 R&B.
From the late 1950s to mid-1960s, Benton continued to record successfully for Mercury, with other hits such as:
- “So Close” (#38 pop, #5 R&B)
- “Thank You Pretty Baby” (#16 pop, #1 R&B)
- “So Many Ways,” (his second Top 10 pop hit at #6, #1 R&B)
- “The Ties That Bind” (#37 pop, #15 R&B)
- “Kiddio” (his third Top 10 pop hit at #7, #1 R&B)
- “The Same One” (#16 pop, #21 R&B)
- “Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)” (#24 pop, #5 R&B)
- “For My Baby” (#28 pop, #2 R&B)
- “Think Twice” (#11 pop, #6 R&B)
- His version of the traditional blues song “Boll Weevil” (his biggest pop chart hit at #2, #1 adult contemporary, #2 R&B)
- “Frankie and Johnny” (#20 pop, #6 R&B)
- “Revenge” (#15 pop)
- “Lie to Me” (#13 pop, #3 R&B)
- “Hotel Happiness” (his fifth Top 10 pop hit at #3, #2 R&B)
- “I Got What I Wanted” (#28 pop, #14 adult contemporary, #4 R&B)
- “My True Confession” (#22 pop, #8 adult contemporary, #7 R&B)
- “Two Tickets to Paradise” (#32 pop, #8 adult contemporary, #15 R&B)
- “Going Going Gone” (#35 pop, #11 adult contemporary, #5 R&B)
Aside from the biggest hits, Benton also scored other several minor pop and R&B hits (e.g., under the Top 40). All in all, he had 49 songs registered on the Hot 100 as well as other hits on the R&B and adult contemporary charts. Many of Benton’s hit songs were written together by himself and Otis.
Brook Benton in later years (and his most famous hit “Rainy Night in Georgia”)
After his many years at Mercury, Benton moved to RCA Records and then to Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records. However, his stints at both labels were not as successful as was his period with Mercury.
In 1968 Benton joined Atlantic Record’s subsidiary label Cotillion Records. In late 1969 he released what would be his most renowned single, “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Written by Tony Joe White way back in 1962, this oldies music classic has been covered by many artists since. But Benton’s version became the most popular, peaking at #4 on the Hot 100, #2 on the adult contemporary chart and #1 on the R&B chart in early 1970. It sold over a million copies and was given a gold disc. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song at #498 on its “500 Greatest Songs” list.
Benton continued to record for Cotillion, releasing many other singles as well as five LP’s there.
Benton died on April 9, 1988 in Queens, New York City, after a bout of pneumonia brought by spinal meningitis. He was 58 years old at the time of his death, leaving behind an illustrious recording career and an enduring legacy.