Saturday, 4 February 2012

Ruth Brown: Rock & Roll (1957)

as promised, heres the debut album of famous r&b / blues singer ruth brown. i was lucky enough to get an original copy from ’57, which makes it one of the oldest lps in my collection (naturally, all the 10″ shellac records i have are even older of course). it also is one of my favorite lps and now i will tell you why:
first of all, i like the a-side much better than the b-side. the latter contains some slow and sentimental songs like ‘sentimental journey‘ (see), ‘old man river‘ and ‘oh what a dream‘, which are not really my cup of tea. the rest of the b-side still is good, solid r&b and a showcase for ruths beautiful voice – BUT, the a-side of this records just kicks ass, believe me! it takes a while to get hot (the opening number ‘lucky lips’ was one of ruths big hits, but personally i dont find it very interesting), but when the third track, ‘wild wild young men‘, kicks off you soon will be in the mood for singing, clapping and dancing. the following number, ‘daddy daddy‘ (which i also put on my ‘blues & boogie’ compilation), was the first song by ruth brown i ever heard and its still my favourite. smooth, swinging r&b with some dirty-sweet lyrics that get pretty arousing sung with that lascivious voice of ruths (and remember, this is a woman herself writing this! :-). to cut it short, an awesome number for late hours. makes me want to go to a sleazy, smoke-filled club in chicago in the 1950s….
the next song is called ‘mambo baby‘ and sort of is about relationship problems – in a spoofing, cheeky way of course. ruth sings about her man who has totally fallen for the mambo and cant stop dancing it all the time, the chorus line “but me or that mambo has got to go” gets into your head pretty fast, and all to soon you will be singing along “all my baby wants to do is the maaaaaambo” and clapping along, swinging your hips!
the last song i am going to mention became my very favorite right after daddy daddy: ‘hello little boy‘ is a fast, speedy-rockin number that you just cant listen to while sitting still – you will have to move and shout along with ruth: “you aint good lookin, you aint nobodys dream ….. i cry oooooohh weeee, you sure look good to me!”, and later on “well its byyyye byyyye, well its byyyye byyyye. well im leavin you baby, hang your head and cryyyy!” gosh, how i love this song!

as always i included scans of the front and rear cover of the lp, but i also typed the liner notes for you, see below. as you will read, ruth brown had a more than tough time at the beginning of her career, and knowing the story behing it makes this record even more fantastic i think. please be so kind and leave a comment if you like it – and if youre too lazy to do so, do me a favor and just spread the word of the blues ;-)

   The road to the top of any field is a long obstacle course with the hardest tests coming just a few feet from the finish line. When the goal finally seems within grasp, it is sometimes discouragingly far off in reality. This was dramatically true in Ruth Brown’s case. She overcame near-tragedy and “bad breaks” that would have broken the will of anybody else. Ruth Brown’s courage and determination, added to her great talent, made her eventual success inevitable.

   Ruth was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on January 30, 1928. Her father was a choir director and her earliest memories revolve around her singing spirituals and hymns under her father’s direction in Portsmouth’s Emmanuel A.M.E. church. This experience is still plain in Ruth’s singing style; the “church” touches add something very distinctive to her whole vocal approach. Gospel singing is marvellous training for young singers because of the way it develops in them a sensitivity to beat, timing, voice control and tonal shading and coloring.

   Much as Ruth enjoyed singing in church, she was also attracted to popular music and blues from a very early age. Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald were her favorites, she recalls. When she sang some of the songs she heard on records, she tried to imitate their styles. Ruth’s was a strict religious home and her father disapproved of her singing anything but hymns. “I had to get out of the house and sing the blues behind the fence were the boys smoked cornsilk”, Ruth says.

   During World War II, Ruth (then a teen-ager), without telling her family, sang at various soldiers’ clubs in Virginia, singing the blues and pop tunes that she was forbidden to sing at home. The situation came to a climax when, one night after a show, she tried to slip unnoticed into her room trough the window. Ruth found her father waiting for her and she received a strong lecture on the evils of singing “wicked songs”.

   In the end Ruth overcame her father’s opposition on her trying her luck in the entertainment field. In 1948 she went to Washington and succeeded in landing a job as vocalist with the Lucky Millinder band. Far from becoming an overnight success, Ruth had to buck a lot of unfavorable criticism and lost her spot with Millinder in short order. A hungry spell followed and Ruth wondered whether she was right in pursuing a singing career. Fortune smiled a little later in the year, however, and Ruth got a job singing at Washington’s Crystal Caverns.

   Blanche Calloway (Cab’s sister) heard Ruth at that time and took her under her wing. She had confidence in Ruth and became her manager. What seemed like the first big “break” was a booking at the Apollo Theater in New York, then and now the most important showcase for a new blues singer. Ruth was also scheduled to be interviewed by Atlantic Records’ a & r men while in the city. Nobody could have been
happier than Ruth as she drove to New York for her opening on October 29, 1948.

   Then occured one of the fateful events that would have shattered anyone but the strongest willed person. While driving outside Chester, Pa., another car came out of a side street – there was an unavoidable crash – and on the very day that Ruth was supposed to open at the Apollo, she lay unconscious in a hospital ward with serious internal injuries and both her legs broken. For long, tedious months Ruth lay bedridden in Chester. When she left the hospital she was wearing cumbersome leg braces and faced the problem of having to get $5,000 someplace in order to pay off the mountain of medical bills that had accumulated.

   Ruth’s first act was to come to New York to keep the date with Atlantic that Fate had prevented her from making the previous year. Out of that first session came So Long – and a feeling, on the part of Atlantic, that in Ruth Brown they had a potential star. The nerve and determination that marked Ruth’s struggle now began to be rewarded. Music circles were “fractured” when she opened at Cafe Society Downtown in New York. Her relaxed, half-sobbing style with her little trick of swallowing high notes on the off-beat was dynamite. Very soon she became the most copied – and most admired – blues singer to have come along since Dinah Washington.

   The the record hits started to come. In the past seven years, no other female blues singer has had so many best-selling records as Ruth Brown: I’ll Get Along Somehow, Teardrops From My Eyes, 5-10-15 Hours, Mama etc. up to her most recent Lucky Lips, which hit both Pop and Rhythm & Blues popularity charts. It is a long, impressive list. Ruth’s earliest records show the signs of influence that Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington had on her style. Very soon these “in-
fluences” were completely absorbed and her individual sound and unique way of delivering and styling a song spread her name around the country like a wildfire. Ruth became known as “Miss Rhyhtm” and is in such demand that she hardly ever succeeds in getting more than a couple of days off a year to rest from the succession of one-nighter, club and theater bookings that occupy her continually.

   Ruth’s heartwarming story has a happy ending for when the story of the Fifties is told, Ruth’s name will be written all over it. Her courage, her faith and her achievement will always be an inspiration to us all.


interesting links:
official website
ruth brown on rateyourmusic
ruth brown on

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