JOE BROWN (By Tony Wilkinson)
Born 13 May 1941, London
I well recall the night back in 1958 (possibly 1959) when the latest Larry Parnes touring review hit the Southend Odeon. I think that either Billy Fury or Marty Wilde was headlining but the thing that kept coming back into my head after the show was the blonde crew-cut guitar playing nutter who, as a member of the backing group The Beat Boys, kept boppin' around on the stage putting more energy into the performance that the singers they were backing. He would leap around the stage going from one side to the other only getting pulled up when the length of his guitar lead ran out. This was my first experience of Joe Brown in the flesh, an occasion that over the years that I have repeated many times and have always come away having enjoyed myself. Incidentally this was also the night when on closing the first half of the first house and in full vocal flight, Vince Eager in his best gold lame suit leapt from the edge of the stage onto the orchestra pit apron to get closer to the audience. Only trouble was that someone, unknown to Vince, had lowered the apron and as a result he disappeared from view into the depths of the orchestra pit. The Beat Boys kept on playing and were peering down into the orchestra pit but there were no vocals. Suddenly, the singing recommenced and they closed out the show with poor ol' Vince still hidden from the audience's view. Vince did the second house with his leg in a plaster cast.
Joe was born in the Plaistow area of east London on 13th May 1941 and was bought up in the Sultan pub. The family was not well off as his dad was periodically in and out of hospital and so soon he was selling cockles and winkles at the weekend as a little earner along with collecting and selling scrap metal and collecting the money back on empty bottles. His first musical experience was playing guitar on the ladies from the Sultan pub's charabanc outing to Southend. He had bought a guitar from a local musician named Georgie Dance when 12 years old for a pound after leaving school, he got a job on the railways first as a cleaner and then as a firelighter on the steam trains then running. But his music tastes were coming to the fore and soon he was involved in skiffle groups such as the Ace Of Clubs Rhythm Group and The Spacemen Skiffle Group, the last mentioned lead by Pete and Tony Oakman. As skiffle died, the band switched to rock 'n' roll. Then came the call for Brown to join Clay Nicholls and The Blue Flames as their guitarist for the summer season at Butlins, Filey, Yorkshire. By all accounts, and Joe's own admission, they were bad. Eventually they were paid off and Joe returned to London.
Brown auditioned for Larry Parnes at the aforementioned Southend show and was signed up. Soon he was appearing on Jack Good's 'Boy Meets Girls' television show, the successor to 'Oh Boy!' Joe worked for Parnes for around three years working the twice a year tours, appearing on television in the previously mentioned show and its follow up 'Wham' and thus played behind both Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran as well as top UK rockers. Joe also backed Johnny Cash when the latter appeared on 'Boy Meets Girls' without the Tennessee Two/Three. In appreciation, Cash sent him a $200 pair of cowboy boots. It was Jack Good who set Joe out on a singing career (he got Brown to sing ditties such as Paul Evans's 'Seven Little Girls' on TV) and as a result Parnes or Good got Brown a recording contract in 1959 with (UK) Decca Records. He also appeared in the movie short 'Spike Milligan Meets Joe Brown' (now where is a copy of that today?).
With the recording contract, Joe had to put together a backing band were christened His Bruvvers by Jack Good. There were a total of four singles under his name and one as The Sneaky Petes issued on the label, the only one of which to make any noise was 'The Darktown Strutters Ball' c/w (the excellent instrumental) 'Swagger'. Brown was also an in demand session musician both for Good and Joe Meek. One session resulted in Joe providing the biting guitar work on the classic Billy Fury ten-inch album 'The Sound Of Fury' recorded in January 1960.
From Decca, it was onto Pye Records and with his first release 'Shine/The Switch' which just made position #33 in the charts. Brown was then switched to the subsidiary Piccadilly label and had a series of singles released, only one of which, 'What A Crazy World We're Living In', saw any chart action. This was the title song of a then West End musical and Brown later starred in the movie version. Early in 1962, Brown and Parnes went their separate ways and Joe set about establishing his own musical identity. His first record under this arrangement was 'A Picture Of You' which smashed its way onto the charts after having been first relegated to the B-side, eventually making number one (despite the fact that the Guinness Book Of Hits shows it peaking at # 2).
It was around this time that Joe toured with Del Shannon and Dion headlined, first time UK visits for both of these American acts. I saw this show at the famed Granada Walthamstow (or perhaps Tooting). Shannon closed the first half and went down a storm. Brown came on immediately prior to Dion and bought the house down, so much so that the audience was still chanting for Joe when Dion took the stage and kept on so doing throughout his act. To say that Dion was put out I guess is an understatement.
Brown had now arrived in the big time. He has learnt his craft well, was an expert stage performer and was making commercial records. There were further hits with the likes of 'Your Tender Look' (#24), 'It Only Took A Minute' (#6), 'That's What Love will Do' (#3), 'Nature's Time For Love' (#26) and 'Sally Ann' (#28) in 1962/1963. There were also EP and LP releases, all of which sold well. But by the end of 1963, Beatlemania was starting to well and truly take command and so Brown took the route of becoming a 'family entertainer'! He, like his rock 'n' roll mate Billy Fury undertook summer seasons but also went into cabaret and pantomime. Brown also starred in the budget flick 'Three Hats For Lisa' with Sid James. In 1965, Joe joined Anna Neagle in the cast of the west end musical 'Charlie Girl' and stayed there for three years. Pye kept on releasing singles, such as his fine version of Don Gibson's 'Sea Of Heartbreak'. However in 1967, he left the label but not before scoring his first hit in nearly four years with his version of 'With A Little Help From My Friends' (#32).
He recorded an album for MCA in 1968 whilst still concentrating on the variety and cabaret circuits before changing musical direction again in 1972 when he formed Brown's Home Brew. This was a country rock outfit before country rock had really become accepted and the result that Joe last a lot of money. The public could not, or would not, accept him in this style and as a consequence he lost a lot of money. It was back to cabaret and television appearances, including a leading role in 'Jack Good's Oh Boy' in 1977. Brown also returned to the west end stage with a six-month stint in 'Pump Boys And Dinettes' that he also directed. He issued the occasional record, with 'Hey Mama' turning into a minor hit.
Come the nineties, he undertook a tour with Chas & Dave that was a huge success. He also released an album of live recordings titled ''On Stage' in 1991 which was followed by the self released set of new recordings ''Come On Joe' in 1992. To this very day, he continues to tour and at the time of writing (February 2004) is setting out on a series of shows with Marty Wilde. He continues to record but is not that prolific with two CDs of new recordings, one in 1997 and the other in 1999. Brown remains true to himself musically and can be classed as a real survivor.
Joe Brown Productions - 'Come On Joe' - 1992
Sequel NED CD 235 - 'The Joe Brown Story' - 1993
See For Miles C5MCD 612 - Live And In The Studio' - 1994
Demon fiendcd 790 - 'Fifty Six And Taller Than You Think' - 1997
Round Tower rtmcd 92 - 'On A Day Like This' - 1999
Castle CMEDD 148 - The Joe Brown story : The Piccadilly/Pye Anthology' - 2001
(The last mentioned is a straight re-issue of the Sequel fifty track double CD and, whilst it is an overview of his Pye/Piccadilly recordings, it does contains six Decca tracks).
'Brown Sauce : The Life And Times Of Joe Brown' by Joe Brown with Graeme Wright. Originally published in 1986 but is still around now.
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