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 in 1955, It Don't Hurt No More in 1958, and I Cried Like A Baby in 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.
After the release of Tore Up, Nappy 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 appeared at blues festivals, where his huge voice and slightly ribald stage antics never fail to bring down the house. Nappy passed away on September 20, 2008.