Charles Brown

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

Charles.

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

the blues.

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

"cocktail blues."

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.