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Booker Brown Interview

Golden Boy


Booker Brown at Porretta Soul Festival (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

  Booker Brown: “I would say Love Is Blind was a Mid-South hit.  Bobby O’Jay, the program director at WDIA radio station here in Memphis, played that song for about six years, and that radio was heard all over the Mid-South that would include Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas, so I would say it was popular in those states.”

  Love Is Blind was Booker’s opening song in July in Italy at the Porretta Soul Music Festival this summer.  That jump blues was followed by an intense rendition of the slow I Take Good Care of You, Booker’s tribute to Bobby Bland.  The Friday evening concert continued next with a funky dancer called Saturday’s a Prime Time Party, then with an easy mid-tempo song titled Never Too Much Love and the thirty-minute stint closed with a catchy dancer named Stir It Up, and during this number Booker enlightened us on how Rufus Thomas taught him to do The Funky Chicken.  Two days later, on Sunday evening, we could still enjoy the mid-tempo Backyard Party and the upbeat Blues Stew.  Incidentally, this was Booker’s first show overseas.


Booker Brown interviewed at Porretta Soul Festival (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

GOLDEN BOY

  Booker Lee Brown was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on January the 17th in 1951.  “My mother Pauline was born in Helena, Arkansas, and I was also raised there with my grandmother and grandfather.  I went there, when I was about five-six – old enough to sing – and I stayed there for about four years.”

  Booker’s mother first sang gospel in churches in Arkansas.  “She sang also blues.  She decided to leave Arkansas and started moving to New York.  She got a chance to sing with different artists like Muddy Waters and the Staple Singers.  It was hard for black people to get into big mainstream, but she was out there with these kinds of people and sang with them in New York.  Sometimes I went with her and we would get in touch with the show life in New York.  My grandparents kept me in Arkansas till my father Porter had to come and get me back to Memphis.  I was about nine then.”

  “Back in Memphis I started singing in Humes Junior High.  I also sang in the State Talent Show Competition, when all the singers from their home state get together.  George Klien got me into that competition.  He had seen me in a regular school competition and liked my singing.”  George hosted a popular TV show called Talent Party those days, but Booker never performed in that show.  “I did Stand by Me and Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag on that talent show.  George actually put an all-white live band behind me.  I won, and that trophy was displayed in the school trophy room.”

  “I was a Temptations and a James Brown fan.  I never got a chance to meet James Brown, when I was later out there.  When I would stay with my father, he would play only blues and that’s when I started knowing about Bobby Bland, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.  That’s what he played all day long.  As a young boy, all I heard was blues.  I was my dad’s only son at the time.  He had more children after me.  I also liked Jackie Wilson and I loved Edwin StarrAgent Double-O-Soul (1965), I never forget that.  As a young boy in Memphis I saw Jackie Wilson doing Lonely Teardrops and Edwin Starr doing Agent Double-O-Soul.”

  “In my early twenties I dedicated myself to the music, but before that I met a girl and started going to church and singing gospel with the Pentecostal Temple Choir, and they would call me ‘Golden Boy.’  Every time Bishop G.E. Patterson in that Church of God in Christ would come on to preach, I would sing my song and he would preach behind me.  The song was I’m Just Waiting on Jesus.”


Booker Brown interviewed at Porretta Soul Festival (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

JUBILEE HUMMINGBIRDS

  “When I got married in 1970, I left the church and I started singing with gospel groups.”  In the 1970s Booker sang with two more prominent gospel groups, the Jubilee Hummingbirds and the Dixie Wonders.  However, he didn’t make any recordings with them.  The Jubilee Hummingbirds was a Gospel Quartet out of Memphis.  It was formed in the 1940s and during their most active recording days twenty years later central figures were reverends Al Banks and E.L. Whitaker.  The group recorded for numerous labels including Rush, Mayo, Chalice, Designer & Messenger, Sound of Memphis, Gospel Express, Crusade, Parrall and also Ace Records still in 1995, when James Carr sang lead with his childhood heroes on three tracks.  The group is active still today. 

  In the 1970s and 80s singing wasn’t enough for Booker in terms of making ends meet.  “At one time I had a job of putting underground cables.  I worked in warehouses.  I had a few of those 9-to-5 jobs, but music was my main interest.”  On the road and in the clubs Booker worked with a lot of soul legends, who have now all passed.  “I got a chance to travel with O.V. Wright.  He picked me up and I started travelling with him.  He could sing!  He put me up there to open up the show.  He said he liked the way I had people excited, so – after me singing Knock on Wood and all those things – he didn’t have to work so hard.  He said ‘you’re Mr. Excitement.’  I learned from him a whole lot of things.  With O.V., I travelled also with Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis...”


Booker Brown and Heikki Suosalo at Porretta Soul Festival (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

GOOD OLD SOUTHERN BLUES

  “Z.Z. Hill had Down Home Blues, and a guy named Byron Hood came up with Good Old Southern Blues.  It was done in a trailer house in Memphis, and the label it was released on was Byron’s independent TOC, which was in Memphis.  Byron played the saxophone and keyboard.”  Barbara and Byron Hood’s T.O.C. label had single releases already in the 1980s, e.g. by the T.O.C. Band and The Other Connection, where the abbreviation T.O.C. comes from.  Booker’s single preceded an album on TOC.  “Byron moved to Atlanta, Georgia, because he had no power to put it out there, so he had Ichiban Records to do the distributing.  That’s when I got with Ichiban.  They called me ‘The Blues Man.’ I met John Abbey a couple of times, and he had seen me in Muscle Shoals, because that’s where I was cutting Blues Stew.  Byron and Ichiban had something to do with each other.”

  The mid-tempo Blues Stew was recorded in Muscle Shoals, whereas the rest of the songs on the upcoming CD titled Stir It Up were cut in Atlanta, Georgia.  “On Blues Stew in the studio I started singing Rock Me Baby and Got My Mojo Working... and the band started playing.  Later they added horns to it and took it to Ichiban.”  According to sleeve notes, on Blues Stew Byron Hood is on saxophone and keyboards, James Field also on keyboards and Leonard Purvis on lead guitar. 

  On most of the rest of the tracks on the CD, Chris Nesbitt is on drums, James Green on bass, Steel Bill Raymond on guitar and Byron on keyboard and saxophone.  Byron composed and arranged the music and Barbara wrote the songs – with the exception of Good Lovin’ Daddy, penned by Booker and Faye Brown - and most probably on this set Barbara is also the other vocalist alongside Booker on the closing ballad, The Same Thing It Took.  The opening track is a mellow and easy dancer titled Stirr It Up (sic) and similarly It’s Alright and Never Too Much Love are melodic mid-tempo floaters.  Both the slow Good Lovin’ Daddy, and the smooth Yo’ Wild Thang have a heavier beat to them.

  At that point Booker lived in Atlanta for 2 ˝ years, but Stir It Up, however, was the only collaboration between TOC and Ichiban.  “Ichiban went out of business, so we couldn’t put out anything else right then.  TOC label wasn’t distributed anymore.  We were planning to put something else out, but Byron’s house burned down and he lost all his masters.”

GOOD LOVIN DADDY

  “Me and Quinn Golden are friends.  We went to school together.  I had moved back to Memphis and I hadn’t seen him for a long time.  He was with Ecko Records, but he had a small label of his own.  He said ‘I’m gonna put you on my label, but I need 3,000 dollars.  When I gave him 3,000 dollars, he produced Good Lovin Daddy.  It was a good CD, but it didn’t go anywhere.”

  On this CD, released in 2000, there’s a new, more uptempo version of the title song, which appeared already on Booker’s debut album.  Cheating Game is a pounding soul-blues number, whereas Jody I’m Warning You is a quick-tempo dancer.  The CD is a small-budget project, which is audible especially in instrumentation, and there are quite a few familiar tunes on display, such as 634-5789 by Wilson Pickett and - while on the subject - Cadillac Fannie is actually Mustang Sally all over again.  Don’t Move My Mountain is an old gospel song made popular by Mahalia Jackson and Inez Andrews, among others.

  Love Stealing is Frank-O Johnson’s emotive cheating ballad, which he and Willie Clayton recorded in the 1990s, and the slow and intense I Take Good Care of You is Booker’s tribute to Bobby Bland, which he sang also in Porretta.  The highlight, however, is Booker’s impressive reading of Quinn’s beautiful and touching soul ballad called Why Am I Still Lonely, which bears a resemblance to such memorable tunes as For Your Precious Love and God Bless Our Love.

  As a recording artist in his own right, Quinn Golden released his first album on James Bennett’s Traction Records out of Jackson, MS., but he became a household name in southern soul after signing with John Ward’s Ecko Records in Memphis in 1997, where he released as many as six CDs.  He had a fatal heart attack and passed away in July 2003, at only 48.


MY HEAT UNDERCOVER

  Quinn participated also in Booker’s next project, which was a CD called My Heat Undercover, and it was put out the very same year of 2000.   Quinn mixed and engineered it, but the producers and writers were Freddie Dilworth together with his wife Loreese.  “He heard me sing and wanted to put out a CD on me.  He paid me some money, we put the CD out... ain’t never heard no more from him.”

  Recorded at Quinn Golden’s studio, the music on this 10-track CD is strongly dominated by blues.  Booker calls it swinging blues.  Four tracks are uptempo, two rap blues and the rest either mid-tempo (My X Lucy Bell), hard-hitting (Looking for Somebody Else’s Love), or slow blues (Heaven on Earth).

PASSION OF LOVE

  Four years later, in 2004, Booker released his best CD so far called Passion of Love.  That’s when I also contacted Booker for the first time and you can read that interview at the bottom of http://www.soulexpress.net/deep304.htm.  In that article Booker tells in detail about the making of that album and of the people behind it.  I still occasionally listen to some of those gorgeous tracks, such as the vibrant Passion of Love, the wistful Still Lonely (that lovely Quinn Golden ballad) and the intense I’m So Glad.  One of Booker’s favourites, a smooth jogger titled Backyard Party is also included.  I actually voted Passion of Love my “Album of the year 2004.”

   The CD was released on Aaron Weddington’s label called Blues River Records.  Aaron was not only CEO of the company, but also a songwriter – he has co-written songs at least for O.B. Buchana and Jaye Hammer – and a manager for his artists, such as Booker, Jaye and Joy (see later).  “They had four or five artists on that label.  They pushed them on, but they didn’t push me, so I didn’t put anything else out on there.”  There was, however, one duet that came out about two years later on Blues River Records on Joy’s CD titled A Woman Can Feel.  Booker sings with Joy on an impressive soul ballad called Trying to Hold On, which they co-wrote together.  Joy is Shirley Brown’s sister and you can read her comments on that track at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep107.htm#joy. “Joy and I were on the same label.  Joy wanted a man voice on her CD for this song, Trying to Hold On, which was telling about two people in a bad relationship, trying to hold on.”


A NEW BEGINNING

  “The song Backyard Party did good in Detroit.  My producer Percy Friends and Pernell Garrison were linked together.  Steel Groove Records (www.steelgrooverecords.com) out of Detroit was his label.  Pernell gave Aaron and Percy 20 000 dollars to push me and Backyard Party, but they didn’t push me.  They had me in the background.  So Pernell acquired the master, but it was messed up so bad that he had to redo it with Steel Groove Records.  I signed with him, and that’s how we put out A New Beginning” (in 2007).

  Besides being a producer and a writer, Percy T. Friends also plays sax, bass, guitar and sings.  His solo album is titled Blues II Jazz.  Along with Morris J. Williams he was the co-producer on Passion of Love, and now on Booker’s A New Beginning he’s the sole producer.  You can read my review at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep108.htm#bookerbrown.  Although not very recommendatory, there were some interesting and delightful moments on the set.

  A blues romp named Love Is Blind (But the Neighbors Ain’t) has since evolved into a big favourite in Booker’s shows and actually it was the only song on those masters that they didn’t have to re-cut.  On this track Ben Cauley and Steve Maylor are the trumpet players.  The new danceable version of Stir It Up is done this time more in a Tyrone Davis style – as well as Let the Past Stay in the Past - and John Cummings wrote one more mover, Soul Train Dancer.  Talking about Tyrone, the best track on the set is the poignant Tyrone Lives On.

PLUS SIZE WOMEN AT A SATURDAY PARTY

  It took as long as eight years until Booker’s next record was released.  “For years I didn’t do anything but travel and sing.  I tried to do the best I could.”  In 2015 on Steel Groove Records they released a single called Plus Size Women, which was written, produced and arranged by Pernell Robert Garrison Sr.  Incidentally, Junior is on background vocals.  The company describes this rocky scorcher as “blue funk.”  Cut at Advanced Recording Studio in Royal Oak, Michigan, they have a live horn section on the background.

  The follow-up single, Saturday’s a Prime Time Party, was released a year later, and again it is defined as “blue funk soul”, and again the music has a strong rock leaning.  Booker has also compiled a CD of his most popular tracks called Original: Old & New.

  “Now we are cutting a blues album.”  Those two singles above are not included on that set.  “I want to do overseas concerts, too.  That’s what we’re working on.  That’s why I’m trying to get known in other countries.  I would really love to come to other countries to do the same thing I’m doing over here in Italy.”

(Interview conducted on July 21 in 2018; acknowledgements to Booker Brown, Carolyn Earl, Dave Thomas and Pertti Nurmi).


ALBUM DISCOGRAPHY


BOOKER “BLUES” BROWN:

STIR IT UP (TOC 53700) 1997

Stirr It Up / Stirr It Up (instr.) / Good Lovin’ Daddy / At’s Alright / Blues Stew / Never Too Much Love / Yo’ Wild Thang / The Same Thing It Took

BOOKER BROWN:


GOOD LOVIN DADDY (Q.D.P./Walker Dog Records) 2000

Cheating Game / Jody I’m Warning You / Why Am I Still Lonely / Good Lovin’ Daddy / I Take Good Care Of You / Call Fannie / 634-5789 / Love Stealing / Don’t Move My Mountain / 634-5789 (instr.)

MY HEAT UNDERCOVER (2000)

My X Lucy Bell / Part Time Worker / Casino Man / Why Not Today / I Can’t Go Down / Looking For Somebody Else’s Love / My Heat Undercover / I Married Her, But Her Mother Is The One I Really Love / Heaven On Earth / Double It

PASSION OF LOVE (Blues River Records, BRR 002) 2004

Cuchie Cuchie / Passion Of Love / Still Lonely / Backyard Party / I’m So Glad / Sugar Daddy / Anytime You Want It / I Need Your Love / Same Thang / Passion Of Love (club mix)

A NEW BEGINNING (Steel Groove Records) 2007

Love Is Blind (But The Neighbors Ain’t) / Stir It Up / Ladies’ Night / Fishin’ At The Hole In The Wall / Lookin’ For A Freak / Soul Train Dancer / Match Made In Heaven / Don’t Get Your Meat Where You Make Your Bread / Let The Past Stay In The Past / Tyrone Lives On


ORIGINAL: OLD & NEW (2017)

Love Is Blind / Love Stealing / Saturday’s A Prime Time Party / Never Too Much Love / Stir It Up / Soul Train Dancer / Match Made In Heaven / Plus Size Woman / Wild Thang / Backyard Party / Blues Stew

© Heikki Suosalo





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