60s Music

Roy Brown – The Pioneer of Rock and Roll

Introduction to Roy Brown

Roy Brown
Publicity photograph of Roy James Brown. (Source: Wikipedia)

Singer-songwriter Roy Brown is widely considered as the pioneer of rock and roll. Brown was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925. He recorded “Good Rocking Tonight” and became a solid hit, peaking at #13 on the R&B chart in 1948. Brown continued to churn out fifteen more R&B hits including two chart-toppers “Long About Midnight” and “Hard Luck Blues.” After experiencing financial troubles as his popularity was declining, Brown made a comeback in 1957, albeit brief; he recorded the Dave Bartholomew-Fats Domino composition “Let The Four Winds Blow” which became a #5 R&B hit. Afterwards, he had a sporadic musical career and held job such as an encyclopedia salesman; he also sold the rights to “Good Rokcing Tonight” to augment his income. When his music brought back some interest in the late 1970s due to a compilation album, he embarked on a series of performances including a successful tour in Scandinavia. Brown died of a heart attack in 1981, aged 55.

Rock and roll’s earliest pioneers

Considered as a pioneer of rock and roll, singer-songwriter Roy Brown gave rhythm and blues a new direction and style – he was posthumously awarded with the Blue Halls of Fame for his groundbreaking work. His record “Good Rocking Tonight” became the seminal force that brought the origin of rock and roll. It was first by “shouter” Wynonie Harris and then by Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Pat Boone, and many others.

“Good Rocking Tonight”

Brown was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 10, 1925. Roy Brown once idolized Bing Crosby but became exposed to blues when he began his singing career in Shreveport. While in a stint in Texas, Brown composed “Good Rocking Tonight” which he then forwarded to blues singer Harris, who was one of Brown’s idols. Unfortunately, Harris rejected it. Disappointed, he then turned to pianist Cecil Gant who was otherwise impressed with the song. Gant then had Brown sing “Good Rocking Tonight” over the phone to the sleepy boss of Deluxe Records, Jules Braun, at about 4:00 in the morning, according to sources. The phone “demo” immediately earned Brown a recording contract.

 

Brown recorded “Good Rocking Tonight” in a jump blues style with a swing beat. It was released on Deluxe in 1948, and eventually peaked at #13 on the R&B singles chart that year. Ironically, Harris eventually recorded his own version of “Good Rocking Tonight” which eventually surpassed Brown’s in the charts. No less than the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, also covered the song in 1954.

 

 

Roy Brown’s peak years

Despite Harris stealing the thunder from him on the charts, so to speak, it wouldn’t take long for Brown to dominate the R&B charts. Later in 1948, he scored his first #1 hit (on the R&B singles chart) with “Long About Midnight,” which he performed with his Mighty-Mighty Men.

The late 1940s and the early 1950s were Brown’s peak years, as well as his stint with Deluxe label. This particular period saw him scoring hits particularly on the R&B chart: “Fore Day in the Morning” (#6 R&B, #12 country), “Rainy Weather Blues” (#5 R&B), “Rockin’ at Midnight” (#2 R&B), “Miss Fanny Brown” (#8 R&B), his own re-recording of “Good Rocking Tonight” (#11 R&B), “Boogie at Midnight” (#3 R&B), “Hard Luck Blues” (#1 R&B), “Love Don’t Love Nobody” (#2 R&B), “‘Long About Sundown” (#8 R&B), “Cadillac Baby” (#6 R&B), “Big Town” (#8 R&B) and “Bar Room Blues” (#6 R&B).

Roy Brown’s decline

Despite his pioneering work, Brown was unable to cash in on the blossoming rock and roll foundation that he helped to create. By the mid-1950s, his popularity had begun to wane, as doo-wop and R&B became the popular and standard “black music” sound during that time. He only managed to keep his ailing fortunes alive when he was signed to Imperial for a brief time in 1957. Brown released Imperial singles such as “Party Doll” (#89 pop, #13 R&B) and his only Top 40 pop hit “Let the Four Winds Blow” (#29 pop, #5 R&B), written by Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino, who would later have his own hit version of that song.

Although his popularity ebbed, Brown managed to make sporadic live appeareances and studio recordings throughout the 1960s. He later sold the rights to “Good Rocking Tonight” to supplement his income, and also worked as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman.

Roy Brown’s comeback and final years

In the late 1970s, a few compilation releases Laughing But Crying and Good Rocking Tonight helped to bring a minor revival of interest towards Brown’s material. This enabled Brown to stage a return to the music scene once again, embarking on a successful tour in Scandinavia. He also performed at the Whisky A Go-Go in West Hollywood, California and headlined the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1981, shortly before his death.

Brown suffered a fatal heart attack in San Fernando, California on May 25, 1981. He was 55 years old.

 

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