This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Today we’re looking at the music of CHARLES BROWN.
Oops, wrong one.
Not just Charles but those similar to him or were influenced by him. This column, if not suggested, was at least inspired by Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, as Charles is a particular favorite of hers as are most of the others featured here today. We’re in for a mellow Sunday (or Monday).
Charles was born in Texas and had classical training on the piano as a youngster. He also earned a degree in chemistry and worked as a teacher for a while before turning his hand to music as a profession.
He moved to Los Angeles and was influenced by Nat King Cole. One of his first professional gigs was as the pianist in the group JOHNNY MOORE AND THE BLAZERS who took over the position in a club when Nat and his group went elsewhere.
Here are the Blazers with Charles singing and playing piano on Jukebox Lil.
RAY CHARLES was hugely influenced by the Blazers, and especially Charles, early in his career.
Of course, he soon developed his own distinctive style. On this track, The Midnight Hour (a different song from the one of the same name by Wilson Pickett), Ray adds more instruments than are present in the Blazers but their influence is unmistakable.
It wasn’t too long before Charles went out on his own and he recorded maybe his most famous song, Driftin’ Blues. This one had already been recorded by the Blazers but his version, although quite similar (how could it not be as Charles sang and played piano on both), I think is superior.
CHUCK BERRY may seem an unlikely presence in this category but pre-rock & roll, he was also influenced by Charles and had a surprisingly similar smooth style.
In the early days, Chuck also had a fine and influential pianist, Johnny Johnson, in his group – well, it was originally Johnny’s group; Chuck took it over. Johnny was probably an unacknowledged co-creator of many of Chuck’s early songs.
With Time Was, Chuck was still writing about his usual subjects but the music isn’t rock & roll. This is mellow, night-time listening.
Naturally I have to include some NAT KING COLE as he was a huge influence on Charles.
Besides, I’ll never miss an opportunity to thrown in some Nat wherever I can. He needs no words from me; you just have to listen to his music. This is Don't Blame Me.
Next we have a couple of artists who are rather similar to Charles. I’ll start with AMOS MILBURN.
Amos is actually somewhat grittier in style than most of the performers today however, as a singer/pianist, he’s often included in this sort of grouping so that’s a good enough excuse.
Much of his work is more R & B or boogie but the song of his that fits best today is Tears in My Eyes.
The next is CECIL GANT.
Cecil didn’t have a long performing career. He first came to notice when he appeared at a war bond rally while he was still a soldier. He wowed them. Later, he recorded for several small labels in Los Angeles, but had a few hits nonetheless.
He died of a heart attack in 1951 aged only 37. Again, Cecil is probably considered more boogie-woogie, but here he is in a laid-back mood performing It's All Over Darling.
When rock & roll hit in the fifties, Charles’s style was considered old fashioned for a while. However, he continued recording in a low-key way. We also had (and have) a reminder of him each Christmas when a couple of his tunes, Merry Christmas Baby and Please Come Home for Christmas are often played. Indeed, I’ve featured them both in my Christmas columns.
Charles received a boost in the late eighties and the nineties when good old Alligator Records signed him and he brought out several fine albums showing he still sounded as fine as ever. This is the title track from one of them, These Blues.
I’ll finish off with a track from another late album, “Just a Lucky So and So”. The song from that one is I Stepped in Quicksand. This shows that he could swing with the best of them when he wanted to.
Charles died in 1999 at the age of 76.