Blues singer/pianist Charles Brown, who died in January from
congestive heart failure, influenced early rock 'n' roll with his
"cool blues" ballads that were an inspiration to such greats as Ray
Brown was born 77 years ago today in Texas City, Texas. The
classically trained pianist received a bachelor's degree in chemistry,
which he taught and practiced before chucking it all for his love of
In 1944 Brown moved to Los Angeles, where his smooth vocals and
piano-playing skills landed him a job in guitarist Johnny Moore's
Three Blazers. The group, styled after the music of Nat King Cole,
featured Moore's brother, Oscar. They had R&B hits in the late '40s
with such records as "Driftin' Blues," "New Orleans Blues," "More Than You Know" and
"Merry Christmas Baby" (RealAudio excerpt).
Brown, who sang lead for the Three Blazers, went solo in 1948 and
became one of the most popular soul singers of the early '50s. He
scored big hits with 1949's "Trouble Blues" (a 15-week R&B chart topper) and 1951's
"Black Night," which spent 14 weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. Brown's
mellow, jazz-influenced style was termed "nightclub blues" or
When rock took over in the '50s, Brown was less popular than before,
but continued to record. In addition to singing the seasonal favorite
"Merry Christmas Baby," Brown popularized "Please Come Home for
Christmas," which was successfully covered by the Eagles. "Merry
Christmas Baby" was later recorded by both Bruce Springsteen and the
E Street Band and by Brown and Bonnie Raitt on A Very Special
Christmas 2 (1992).
Though he continued to play clubs, Brown recorded less frequently in
the '60s and '70s. But in the '80s, interest in the blues veteran
increased. In 1986 Alligator Records reissued his classic LP One
More for the Road, featuring "I Cried Last Night," "I Stepped in
Quicksand" and "Route 66." Brown also raised his profile by appearing
with Ruth Brown in the PBS documentary That Rhythm ... Those Blues.
Most importantly, the red-hot Raitt took Brown on tour as her opening
act in the early '90s. Brown started recording for the Bullseye Blues
record label and garnered a Grammy Award nomination.
But Brown began suffering from heart problems. In January Raitt
headlined a San Francisco benefit for Brown that also included John
Lee Hooker and Dr. John. Later that month Brown succumbed to heart
failure in Oakland, Calif. Two months later he was inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Brown's last LP, So Goes Love (1998), featured "New Orleans
Blues" and "Money's Gettin' Cheaper."
Other birthdays: Lewis Steinberg (Booker T. and the MG's), 66;
Dave Quincy (Manfred Mann's Earth Band), 60; David Clayton-Thomas
(Blood, Sweat and Tears), 58; Peter Cetera, 55; Randy Jones
(Village People), 47; Don Was, 47; Joni Sledge (Sister Sledge), 43;
Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot), 40; Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), 38; Steve
Perkins (Porno for Pyros, Jane's Addiction), 32; Fiona Apple, 22; Bill
Monroe, 1911-1996; and Mel Torme, 1925-1999.