Like many jump blues artists, Roy Brown is vastly under-appreciated today. Born in 1925 in New Orleans, Brown got his start singing gospel music in church. Growing up, he lived in Los Angeles, Houston and Louisiana. After a brief period as a professional boxer, he won a singing contest in 1945 and fully developed his rhythm and blues (R&B) style of singing during a nine month gig at a Shreveport, LA club.
He was one of the first R&B singers with a gospel style of delivery, a style that influenced later artists such as B.B. King, Elvis Presley and Little Richard.
Brown was a big fan of Wynonie Harris and tried to interest him in a song he had written, Good Rockin’ Tonight. Harris at first rejected the song, but Brown recorded the song in early 1948 and had a minor hit. Harris covered the song in late 1948 and it hit the top of the R&B charts. Harris’ version of Good Rockin’ Tonight is considered a classic of the jump blues genre (and Brown’s version is also good!).
From mid-1948 until late 1951, Brown had a very successful run of hit records, scoring 14 hits, including Love Don’t Love Nobody, Boogie at Midnight and Cadillac Baby.
As doo-wop and other R&B groups began to gain popularity, Brown’s career began to wane. When rock and roll music hit the scene, he tried “teenage” type songs, but he had little success. Brown went into semi-retirement, but recorded and performed in the late 50’s and 60’s when opportunities were available.
In 1970 Brown appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The crowd’s positive reaction led to a minor revival of his career in the 70’s. But like a lot of early R&B artists, he never received the credit (artistic or financial) for the rock and roll era he helped invent and develop.
Roy Brown died of a heart attack on May 25, 1981 in San Fernando, CA.