Thursday, November 8, 2018


Change of heart here, I was originally going to do a treat track, something looked forward to, held with relish. Then I heard this, by chance, on i-pod shuffle, by Ruth Brown, remembering what an unsung talent she was, a holding post between the raw blues of Bessie and the smoother soul of Aretha, in the relative early 50s graveyard of popular music, missing most of the peak genres littered before and after. Uncertain where to place her, jump jive or straight forward big band r'n'b, with the emphasis on b, I think she needs more listens.

This song, a traditional good girl done bad belter, was based upon a song heard by the song's authors and which included the title, so the standard semi-plagiarism that has bedevilled any blues based music to this day. Ruth Brown, already successful, requested it sped up a bit, whereupon she took it to a 1952 no.1 on the r'n'b Billboard chart. (Re-recorded a decade later, she took it to 99 in the full chart.) Personally, I can do without the yelps in the original, but I prefer the full big band arrangement to the later more standard happy-clappy version.

So what of Ruth Brown? Born in 1928, she was an early recipient of the Queen of r'n'b crown, following a string of singles during the early 50s, themselves helping define Atlantic records as a label of discernment in such areas. However her star faded as the 60s beckoned, spending her time quietly in suburbia. The mid 70s saw a resurgence in her career, predominantly as an actress in films such as the iconic 'Hairspray', playing Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs, a character prominent in black (music) rights. This was then something she addressed in real life, being responsible for the idea of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which still fights for the royalties and rights of african-american musicians in the field of r'nb. On the back of this she revived her own musical career, touring more or less until she couldn't, dying in 2006 at the age of 78. You can see her supporting Bonnie Raitt on Raitt's 1995 DVD, 'Road Tested', along with, no relation, similar legend, Charles Brown. Listen to the plaudits offered in the voice-over.

The song hasn't exactly faded from sight, being a staple still in blues (and rhythm) circles. Here is a version from 2 decades after the original: Koko Taylor,

and another 2 decades after that: Susan Tedeschi,

Ain't they all a treat?

POSTSCRIPT: I discover Darius of this parish featured this self-same song a mere 9 years ago. Sorry, Bro', but if it's good enough for you.....

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