The mid-1950s was an era of radical musical change. It was a time when
musical and racial barriers began dropping, when the spirit and drive of rhythm
& blues and rock 'n' roll burned with an intensity and joy that has never
been equaled. Big-voiced blues shouters belted out their tunes backed by rocking
bands of guitars, drums and horns. During these golden years, a group of
performers emerged in the forefront as pioneers of this sound. Napoleon "Nappy"
Brown was one of these.
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1929, Nappy Brown's earliest musical
influences were blues and gospel. As a youngster he performed in several gospel
groups, including the Heavenly Lights. Nappy's singing eventually brought him in
touch with the Savoy label, which signed him in the early 1950s to compete with
shouters like Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and Big Joe Turner.
A big man with an incredible amount of energy, Nappy soon became famous for
his wild stage antics. Touring with the likes of Little Richard and Jackie
Wilson, Nappy always got the crowds involved in his performances, often getting
in the audience down on his knees and singing or dancing with the ladies.
Between 1955 and 1959, Brown appeared over and over on Billboard's
R&B charts, with hits like Don't Be Angry,
which reached number two
nationwide. Other big songs for Nappy included Pitter Patter
It Don't Hurt No More
in 1958, and I Cried Like A Baby
1959. But probably the song that had the biggest impact for Nappy was a tune he
wrote and recorded, but is best remembered as a hit for Ray Charles--Night
Time Is The Right Time.
In the early 1960s, Nappy continued to record and tour, but eventually ended
his association with Savoy Records. Except for a lone album done in 1969 on
Elephant Records, Nappy remained unrecorded for years. Settling down in a small
town outside of Columbia, South Carolina, he concentrated his singing efforts
towards gospel during the 1970s and early 1980s. But renewed interest in his
R&B recordings abroad and the re-release of a number of his early songs on
albums in Europe resulted in a highly successful Scandinavian tour in 1983.
Landslide Records decided it was time to bring back Nappy Brown, R&B
legend. After contracts were signed, Nappy went to Atlanta to record during the
summer of 1984. The result, Tore Up,
was a collection of
diverse songs that showed Nappy's incredibly powerful voice to still be in
excellent form. The band backing Nappy on Tore Up
is none other
than the Heartfixers, featuring future guitar star Tinsley Ellis. Brown's voice,
a true instrument in its own right, blended so well with the band it's hard to
believe that Nappy hadn't recorded for over 14 years.
Since the release of Tore Up,
Nappy has recorded a solid
string of albums for a variety of labels. And interest in his early recordings
remains strong, as many of them have been reissued on CD. He regularly
appears at blues festivals, where his huge voice and slightly ribald stage
antics never fail to bring down the house.