Bob Corritore sent the word of this latest sad news to blues folks everywhere in his email newsletter:
- RIP 10/7/1939-3/20/2009: This note just in from Eric Thom: "Mel Brown has just passed - around open for Mavis Staples tonight, but details are still pending. He was to tonight, but has been in St. Mary's Hospital in Kitchener fighting to get his breathing back without the use of a machine. This is a huge loss for the blues, and for the blues world in Canada, specifically". Mel Brown was one of the real treasures of blues guitar and piano. He had a long history of spectacular recordings for labels such as Impulse, Bluesway, Antone's, and in recent years, for his home base label of the Electro-Fi records. He also recorded as a sideman for some of the greatest of blues artists, including T-Bone Walker, B.B. king, Bobby "Blue Bland," Albert Collins, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Snooky Pryor, Jimmy McGriff, James Cotton, Doug Sahm, Earl Hooker and Charles Brown (could a discography be any more fulfilled than that?) Yet another irreplaceable blues great has left us.
A few highpoints.
He was the son of John "Bubba" Brown, a Delta Blues Artist of note who ha traveled with Tommy Johnson and the Chatmon Brothers, but in order to raise his family, did not pursue music full time. Growing up in Jackson he met numerous blues legends and saw others growing up like Elmore James, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters and Sonny Boy Williamson. Mel ended up working several gigs with Sonny Boy in nearby Vaughn, Mississippi "He needed a guitar player, so he came by my house and got me".
In 1958 he moves to LA where he hooks up with Jimmy Beasley and then Johnny Otis. Later he tours with the Olympics and Etta James. At this juncture of his career Mel begins to work steadily in the highly competitive L.A. studio scene appearing on sessions with everyone from Bobby Darin to Doris Day, Bill Cosby to Jerry Lewis. Meanwhile back in the blues world, after impressing T-Bone Walker with his playing one night at the Sands Club, Walker invited Mel to appear on an album , "Funky Town", that he was preparing to record for the ABC/Impulse label . Also impressed with Mel’s guitar work on the T-Bone sessions, producer Bob Thiele summoned Mel back to the studio a week later to record his debut "Chicken Fat". The LP is a flavorsome mix of blues, jazz and funk instrumentals with special guest Herb Ellis along for the ride.
He waxed several more albums for ABC-Impulse as well as records with many blues legends like Bobby Bland (The California Album), Charles Brown (the album "Legend" opposite Earl Hooker), Jimmy Witherspoon (again opposite Earl Hooker) and way too many more. He also worked off and on with Bobby Bland from 1971 to 1981. In 1983, he moved to Austin and becomes part of house band at Antone's including recording as part of the Silent partners. He is heard on a number of Antone's label albums as well as some by Albert Collins.
He moved to Ontario, Canada in 1990 where he remained for the rest of his life. He recorded a number of albums as a leader for Electro-Fi, as well as played on albums by Snooky Pryor and other legends. His 1999 Electro-Fi debut album " "Neck Bones & Caviar," which in 2001 won Mel the W.C. Handy (now Blues Music Award) "Blues Comeback Album of the Year" award."
He was highly respected in the music world throughout his career. I never had the pleasure of seeing him perform, but his legacy as a leader and a sideman is substantial.
The image of Mel is by taLkiN' bLuEs and taken from his website, www.melbrownblues.com
Since writing this I became aware of a Mel Brown obituary on the cbc's website.