New Orleans blues shouter Roy Brown first broke with his epochal "Good Rocking Tonight," which he wrote in 1946 and recorded in 1947, and from which he received the trade name "Good Rocking Brown." Between the late 40's and early '50's, Roy Brown cut some of the greatest rock and roll recordings ever made, though they were much too early for mainstream radio or even to be remembered during the 50's "rock 'n' roll era."
"Rockin' At Midnight"--Brown, 21 and unknown in 1947, took his "Good Rocking Tonight" to a Wynonie Harris performance that year in New Orleans, and offered it to him, hoping that Harris would record it. Harris, already a star, brushed him off. During an intermission, Brown sang it himself, with Harris' band. Brown recorded it in July, Harris in December. Harris told the story: "I stole 'Good Rocking Tonight' from my man Roy Brown, and also his 'Miss Fanny Brown' and made bigger hits out of them and more money off them than he ever did...when I say I stole the tunes, I mean I waited until Roy had made his sides and then out-sang him with my own interpretation." Thus began the friendly rivalry between the two singers, who continued to make answer versions of "Good Rocking Tonight" for years. After Harris' cover made the charts in early 1948, Brown re-penned the tune as "Rockin' at Midnight," which was recorded in 1948 and released in January, 1949. Harris came back with "Bad News Baby, (There'll Be No Rocking Tonight)," in 1952, and Brown answered with the powerful"Ain't No Rocking No More," in 1953. In 1954, Elvis Presley rose to stardom with his recording of "Good Rocking Tonight." Roy tells the story, "Some friends of mine came up to me one time and said, 'Hey Roy, we heard on the radio, some hillbilly was singing your song.'" After Roy found out who this hillbilly was, he remembered him as the kid who had come to his gigs to watch him sing. It's clear that Roy Brown was one of the main inspirations for the young Elvis.
"Rock-A-Bye Baby"--Brown had previously recorded this tune in 1949 with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra, but this 1951 version is his more rocking rendition. The first three verses are in the blues shouting style, but the rest is rock and roll by anybody's definition. The last few lines of this track can't be more definitive. Most of Brown's recordings are slow blues and ballads, because of his period, but the rocking numbers like this one made him perhaps the single most important figure in the emergence of genuine, full blown rock 'n' roll.
"Hurry Hurry Baby"--This 1953 recording is included here mostly because it shows Brown doing an Elvis impersonation--but in reverse, since Elvis was unknown at the time. It goes without saying that when Elvis Presley was growing up he spent many hours listening to Roy Brown records.
Because of Brown's first hit, which he wrote, he got the nickname, "Good Rocking Brown." In September of 1949, he recorded, "I Feel That Young Man's Rhythm," which included the astonishing lyrics:
"Good Rocking," that's my name,
They better put my rock in the hall of fame.
Although it is extremely hard to believe that somebody in 1949 could be singing about putting his rock in the hall of fame, it is even more incredible that Roy Brown, as of 2005, has still not been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. It seems as if the list of names in that organization is reserved for the the rock and roll stars of the post-Elvis period, and that the Hall has turned a deaf ear to the real, original rockers, or given them also-ran credit by calling them "early influences" rather than giving them full credit as the genuine rockers that they were. What do you expect from Cleveland?
In spite of the importance of his records, Brown has remained in obscurity. It seems he sued for the royalties his manager had been skimming from him, and thus got himself blackballed, in 1952, from the record industry. By the time his own rock and roll became popular, he was out of the picture. He spent much of his life as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, getting in people's living rooms by introducing himself as "Good Rocking" Brown.
Roy Brown was one of the most important founding fathers of rock and roll. Many people have nominated their favorite artists as the main founding father or mother of rock and roll. Some say Louis Jordan, some say Bill Haley, some say Wynonie Harris, some say Ike Turner or Big Joe Turner or Chuck Berry or The Chords or The Spaniels or Little Richard or Elvis...there are as many fathers and godfathers and grandfathers of rock and roll as there are writers, promoters of artists, self-promoting artists, and fans. Many just shrug their shoulders and say that it took hundreds of artists to bring rock and roll to the public ear. But Roy Brown, Good Rocking Brown, was one of the most important of all. While others were rocking their boogies and jumping their blues, Roy Brown was writing songs and cutting records that were so far ahead of their time, it's as if he jumped into a time machine and left the1940's, attended a Led Zeppelin concert, got dazed and confused, and went back to the 1940's, all shook up, and with a mission. Roy Brown took all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together into the first full-blown rock and roll.Unfortunately, as he was being rediscovered in Europe in the early 1980's, he passed away, but before he died, he was given the chance to sing before an audience that included Paul McCartney, who sat in the front row, eyes wide open, as the father of rock 'n' roll was showing him how it's done
Roy Brown, about 35 years after he heard the news.