Charles Brown & Amos Milburn - I Want To Go Home (ACE 561)
I Want To Go Home
We talked about this song a couple of weeks back in our Amos Milburn post. After some further digging, it appears that (lucky for us!) it was actually released as the B side of Educated Fool, a Huey Smith styled rocker that didn't do much in the charts...
Charles Mose Brown grew up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, learning to play classical piano as a boy. He earned a degree in Chemistry at Prairie View A&M college, and was teaching in local schools when the war broke out. Classified as 4-F because of his asthma, Brown was assigned as a "junior chemist" at a defense plant in California, but the music was in his blood.
He won an "amateur hour" type contest in 1944, and started working with Bardu-Ali's orchestra. Ivie Anderson soon hired him to tickle the ivories at her famous Chicken Shack. It was here that he got noticed by guitarist Johnny Moore, who hired him as the pianist for his new trio, The Three Blazers. Johnny's brother Oscar was tearing it up on the local club scene with The King Cole Trio and, soon enough, the Blazers were too.
The groundbreaking Drifting Blues became a huge (#2) hit for the upstart Philo label (soon to become Aladdin) in 1945, and The Three Blazers were on their way.
Johnny Moore's Napoleonic mistrust of just about everyone kept the trio label-hopping, but they continued to chart on a regular basis. Both Billboard and Cashbox named them as the top R&B trio of 1946. In 1947, they released the perennial favorite Merry Christmas Baby, which is still going strong today.
Charles Brown was writing all the music, singing all the songs, and selling all the records, and yet Johnny Moore's name was still up front. Something just didn't seem right, and so Charles set out on his own in 1948. Signing an exclusive contract with Aladdin, he continued to crank out the hits, cracking the R&B top ten consistently between 1949 and 1952. Songs like Trouble Blues, Hard Times, and Black Night were absolutely HUGE and placed him squarely on the top of the R&B heap, influencing up and coming artists like one Ray Charles Robinson.
By the mid-fifties Mr. Brown, like so many of his contemporaries, had trouble making the transition to 'rock & roll'. He sued Aladdin for unpaid royalties in 1956, effectively ending his association with them, and signed with Atlantic for a brief period.
Although his records weren't selling like they used to, Charles still drew a respectable crowd to his live performances. It was at one of these, a double-bill with Amos Milburn at The Dew-Drop Inn, that Johnny Vincent signed both of them for his Ace label in 1959. He brought them down to Cosimo's studio and recorded Educated Fool and our current B side with the good ol' house band.
Brown would release one more single on Ace before signing with King Records in Cincinatti in 1960. Incredibly, he was to write and record another timeless classic, Please Come Home for Christmas by the end of the year.
Charles continued to work club dates around the Cincinatti area at this time, basically taking whatever work he could get. He was apparently an inveterate gambler, able to lose large sums of money almost as fast as he made them. He ended up deep in hock to a syndicate boss by the name of Screw Andrews, who kept him playing (with a gun to his head) as the house band at his Copa Club in Newport, Kentucky (a 'sin-bin' right outside of Cincinatti). It was here that Sam Cooke would hear Charles perform I Want To Go Home as part of his regular show whenever he was in town. Cooke was a big fan, and would often tell him that someday he was gonna record it with him...
By 1962, Andrews was dead, and Brown was free to return to the west coast. By this time, Sam had written new lyrics to the song, and asked Charles to come down and play piano at the recording session for his tune, now re-titled Bring It On Home To Me. Brown declined, opting instead to go to the racetrack... The rest, as they say, is history, with Sam and long-time Chicago Gospel pal Lou Rawls nailing it on the second take, this phenomenal song would go on to become the giant hit that it remains today (please check out Peter Guralnick's excellent Dream Boogie for more on Cooke and his world).
Brown is credited as co-writer on the back of this "Best of Sam Cooke" CD I got in the late 80s, but apparently nowhere else... not on the single, or on the vinyl version of the same greatest hits package, or - where it really counts - in the BMI Reperoire database. This all seems kinda strange, as Cooke truly was a HUGE fan, releasing an incredible blues-themed album, Night Beat, at the height of his career in 1963 that was made up almost entirely of Charles Brown compositions...
Anyway, Mr. Brown's phone basically stopped ringing for the remainder of the sixties and seventies, and he had given up playing music entirely.
In 1986 he would release an album called One More For The Road on the Blueside label, and people began to take notice. Other critically acclaimed albums were to follow and in 1989 he became an inaugural recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award. He would tour with Bonnie Raitt in 1990, and go on to perform and record regularly throughout the decade, finally getting some of the recognition he deserved.
One of my fondest memories is of seeing him play solo at a small club in NYC around Christmas time during this period. He sounded, and looked, just about as great as ever, joking about how nobody, including himself, could believe how old he really was.
Charles Brown was awarded a Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1997, and was recording with everyone from Etta James to Elvis Costello. 1998's So Goes Love was to be his last record, and is, believe it or not, one of his best.
Charles died of congestive heart failure in January of 1999.
He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in March of that year.
They were a little late.