When I eventually got curious enough to explore the history of Ray Charles the name that came up again and again was Charles Brown. Ray said his biggest influences, starting out, were Nat Cole and Charles Brown. Of course I already knew about Nat Cole, or at least thought I did. Nat “King” Cole was everpresent on the radio as I was growing up. It was much later that I discovered what a great musician he really was. Even the commercial hits were wonderful but his straight-ahead jazz trio records (with or without vocals) were and are the best! But who’s Charles Brown? I never heard him and never found any records, hard as I looked. Then one day I struck gold. An odd album turned up on an obscure label with no recording date consisting of an unusual trio. I bought it, of course, and loved it, despite its eccentricities.

A few years later the Route 66 label started up, in Sweden of all places, that reissued dozens of albums from the great golden era of early rhythm and blues. Later Capitol Records bought up the Alladin label and reissued more great jazz and R&B. Most, if not all, the great Charles Brown recordings turned up. Several labels rediscovered Brown and recorded him so that into the nineties new Charles Brown discs were coming out and showed he was great as ever.

Some time in the nineties Brown suffered a stroke. He recovered enough to tour again and in April 1998 played the Yale in Vancouver where I took the above picture. He died a few months later, on January 21, 1999.

Listen to his first great hit, Driftin’ Blues with guitarist Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, featuring Brown’s vocals and piano, from 1945.

Top photo: Brian Nation
Bottom: old publicity shot

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