Monday, March 5, 2012
JAY BROWN - THAT'S HOW MUCH
That's one of the great things about collecting records; you're never going to have EVERYTHING, but you're sure gonna have fun TRYING......and along the way you'll pick up some nice surprises, like "That's How Much" by Jay Brown.
I can't even remember where I picked up this record - might have been a purchase off of that online auction site which will not be mentioned here (because they basically SCREW the very folks who make them profitable - the sellers). Anyway, I probably bought this because 1) I thought it was danceable soul; 2) because it was on Atco - there's a lot of hidden gems on that label up to about 1969 or so; and 3) it was cheap.
Well, when I finally got the record onto my turntable and played it, I was pleasantly surprised - it wasn't a soul record at all, but a Bo Diddley-fied stormer with a country/garage edge, cool female backing vocals and some WAILING harmonica! First thing I did was ask myself, "who IS this guy, and why is he not famous?" That's when my record geek detective skills kicked in, and I started scanning the labels for familiar names. I saw the name "Janes" as the writing credit for the record's B-side, "Don't Push Me Around", and also saw that both sides were published by Cotillion Music (Atlantic/Atco's in-house publishing company) and Rolando Music .....hmmm..... Rolando...... Janes.......ROLAND JANES! Well! Once I found out that ol' Roland was behind this record, it didn't take long to find out who Jay Brown was.
You probably don't know who Roland Janes is, but you've definitely heard his work. One of the many, many "unsung heroes" of the music business, Roland Janes started his career with a chance meeting with legendary producer Jack Clement, who, at the time (1956), was working with an up-and-coming rockabilly singer named Billy Lee Riley. Janes joined Riley's band as lead guitarist, and shortly afterward the whole band (and Clement) were hired by Sam Phillips at Sun Records; Clement as an engineer, and Riley and his group as the Sun Records house band. Sam Phillips was so enamored of Riley and the band, he once said, "I was disappointed we never broke him into the big time. His band was just a rockin' MOTHER!!"
Janes played on most (if not all) of Jerry Lee Lewis' and Billy Lee Riley's legendary Sun sides (where the band was billed as "Billy Lee Riley and The Little Green Men"), until Riley left Sun in a fit of pique in early 1958. Janes then went out on the road with Bill Justis and Jerry Lee for a year, until Billy Lee Riley got hold of him again, talking about a career on the other side of the studio glass. The two of them formed Rita Records in late 1959, scoring a national hit in 1960 with Harold Dorman's "Mountain Of Love". Unfortunately, Riley was a bit of a loose cannon, and he quit the label, which folded soon afterwards. After gigging in St. Louis for a year, Janes returned to Memphis in 1962 and opened his own studio, Sonic Sound. There he cut hits such as "Scratchy" by Travis Wammack, "I'm Movin' On" by Matt Lucas, "My Girl Josephine" by Jerry Jaye, and most likely the above record, cut in late 1965. After the studio folded in 1974, Janes went to work for the Sounds Of Memphis studio, and eventually ended up back with Sam Phillips, engineering and producing at Phillips' custom studio at 639 Madison Ave. in Memphis, where he remains to this day, cutting sessions.
Jay Brown? Well, that was a pseudonym for......J. W. Brown, who holds a special place in rock and roll history - not only was he Jerry Lee Lewis' bass player, he was also Jerry's uncle AND father-in-law (by dint of Jerry marrying J. W.'s thirteen-year-old daughter, Myra Gale). A resume like that would be enough for most people, but J. W. didn't stop there - he was also lucky enough to be Jerry Lee's (possible) first shooting victim (though Jerry always maintained it was accidental - Jerry was shooting holes in a door that J. W. just happened to be standing behind)!!! He is also notable for being the first person - ever - to play the electric bass on television, appearing with Jerry Lee on the Steve Allen show in 1957 for the legendary performance of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On". He's also the guy standing on the back of the truck with Jerry Lee and drummer J. M. Van Eaton at the beginning of the film "High School Confidential". Brown's still around, despite Jerry Lee and his guns, and last year he wrote a book chronicling his 50-year relationship with his legendary nephew - get it here.
As for this record, Janes leased it to Atco, who released it in January, 1966. Unfortunately, the music owed more to 1963 than 1966, and that's probably why it stiffed. But that doesn't mean it's not great; it was just recorded and released too late for the trend.
If you want to read more about Roland Janes, Billy Lee Riley, Jerry Lee Lewis and the whole lot of artists who recorded for Sun Records, I suggest the excellent book "Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and The Birth of Rock 'N' Roll" by Colin Escott with Martin Hawkins. Get it here.
Jay Brown - That's How Much (Atco 6394) - 1966