Ruth Brown & Rose Maddox: R&B
What a strange title about the Most Colourful Hillbilly Band of the 50's but, for sure, Rose and her
Brothers reworked in them high powered style quite a few R'n'B songs. A great CD issued few weeks
ago by Bear Family records bring to us them own version of Ray Charles "I got A Woman" (re-titled
The Death of Rock and Roll), Mickey and Sylvia classic teenage song "Love is Strange" and Ruth
Brown's Atlantic classic mover "Wild Wild Young Men".
As Ruth Brown passed away on November 17, 2006 following heart stroke complications, I thought you
may like to know more about that R'n'B Lady who influenced a lot of female singers and saved
Atlantic label from the bankruptcy.
Ruth Weston Brown was born on June 30, 1928 in Virginia in a very religious family. She quickly
played piano in local churches and, in the summers, moved in North Carolina for working with her
brothers and sister on them grandma farm. That's how she learned you had to be strong and that
probably helped her a lot in the years to come. She had a fighting spirit and she was not going to
lay and roll over for anyone in her whole life. Listening Billie Hollyday and Ella Frizgerald, she
started to play in clubs during World War II against her father choices. So when she hit 17 years
old, she moved to work musically and wed Jimmy Earl Brown, a trumpeter. She later found out that he was
already married but she kept his name and recorded some titles with him at "Atlantic". In 1948, she
worked with Annisteen Allen for Lucky Millinder before being fired after concert in Washington D.C.
Flat broke, she found a "one week" job in a Washington D.C. club owned by Blanche Calloway, Bob's
sister. That $35 job helped her buy return ticket for Portsmouth. But, things worked
differently as Blanche became her manager and soon she was in contact with Herb Abramson and Ahmet
Ertegun. Those "hep" guys had set the "Atlantic" Records label in October 1947 and were looking for
performers to produce. They agreed to set a recording session in New-York and to bring Ruth on the
famous Apollo Theater. On her way to New-York, with Blanche and Jimmy Brown, their car was wrecked near
Philadelphia. She would stay 9 months in hospital and will keep legs pains for her whole life.
"Atlantic", even without contract, kept faith on her vocal abilities and payed the hospital bills.
She was still walking with crutches when she recorded her first session on May 25, 1949.
Her first song, "So Long" climbed right up on the charts but the following efforts failed. In October 1950,
"Teardrops from My Eyes" will bring her back on the top of the R'n'B Charts and will give her the
nickname of "Miss Rhythm". "5-10-15 Hours" and "Daddy Daddy" will be followed by "(Mama) He treats
your Daughter so Mean" issued in January 1953. That song will ride on top of the charts, including
"pop", before "Hound Dog" by Big Mama Thornton came on picture. That song had a big impact on Janis
Martin, a cute 13 year old girl from Virginia, but already a veteran country performer. Later Janis
will find her way on "RCA", billed as "the Female Elvis", and will put "soul on fire" on her
In May 53, Ruth came with the milestone mover "Wild Wild Young Men" issued on Atlantic 993. That
song will be covered by Rose Maddox and her brothers on February 24, 1955 on Radio Recorded studio
in Hollywood for "Columbia" records. Here we got a fabulous record mixing, as Elvis had done few
months earlier in Memphis, Country and R'n'B. That song was also covered the following year by a
Fort Worth cat named Johnny Carroll. The song titled "Wild Wild Women" with Harold Bradley and Grady
Martin on guitars was issued on "Decca". Rockabilly was born and growing up fast!
Buddy Knox will borrow Ruth's 1954 song "Somebody Touched Me" for "Roulette" Records too. "Atlantic"
records was a very important label in the rise of Rock'n'Roll and Rockabilly. In 1955, Elvis used to
do on stage Lavern Baker's "Tweedle Dee" and recorded The Clovers "Fool, Fool, Fool". "Drinkin' Wine
Spo Dee O Dee", "Chains of Love", "Shake, Rattle and Roll", "Flip, Flop and Fly", "Money Honey",
"Honey Hush", "Leave my Woman Alone" or "What'd I Say", all Rock'n'Roll classics, came from that
In January 1955, now married with saxophonist Willis Jackson, Ruth will give birth to a son and then
made a TV apperance on the famous Steve Allen Show (Mars 1955). Her next single, "As Long as I
Moving", is a favourite of Janis Martin who does a great rendition on stage. The R'n'R raise
brought hard times to R'n'B performers but Ruth will chart again with "Lucky Lips" and the fabulous
"This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'" written by Bobby Darin. Great moving song with blasting sax and
In 1961, she stopped her long time association with "Atlantic". That label became too big and she
had to wait in the lobby to meet the executives. Kind different of the early times when that label
was a kind of family for Ruth, Clyde Mc Phatter or Ray Charles. Clyde Mc Phatter, the leader of the
Drifters, and Ray Charles had left the label too.
In the following decades, Ruth got some hard times but still recorded and was back in the spotlights
with a musical titled "Selma". She moved to Las Vegas doing musicals as "Stagger Lee" or "Black
and Blue" with huge success. She was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and worked an
agreement with "Atlantic" for unpaid royalties. In 2003, she shared the stage in Long Beach with her
long time fan Janis Martin. She also played major festivals and always received big reception. Ask
Wanda Jackson or Janis Martin how react the crowd when they done them act. They are rockin' rollin'
Queens and treated like that!
But Ruth, as Rose Maddox, never learned to read music. She said "In school, we had music classes, but
I ducked them. I didn't want to learn how to read no note. I woke up one morning and I knew I could
sing" ... that's all!
You can find easily many records by Ruth Brown and by Rose Maddox and her Brothers. If you want to
heard how Hillbilly music was mixed with R'n'B, you better buy Bear Family CD's "Ugly and Slouchy".
That record, and his wonderful booklet, will bring you in the 50's when music started to change.
Here you will find a band who can play on his own style The Carlisles "No Help Wanted", the
nostalgic "Old Black Choo Choo", Marvin Rainwater's "I Gotta Go Get my Baby" or ... Ruth Brown "Wild
Wild Young Men". And, believe me, that gang from the Alabama Mountains who moved to California were ...
Wild Wild Young Men and will rock your overall off!
Dominique "Imperial" ANGLARES
Brest R'n'R Appreciation Society
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