Born 22 July 1929, Princeton, West Virginia.
Billy Brown bought his first guitar at the age of eight and served in the infantry during the Korean War. After his discharge, he decided to try for a career in entertainment and landed a gig at the Anchorage Club in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there that he came to the attention of Allen Bradley, who signed him to a management contract, and took him to see Atlanta's music maven, Bill Lowery. A note in Don Law''s logbook states that he was signed to Columbia Records on October 20, 1957, implying that the Billy Brown who had singles on Columbia in the early 1950s was a different person. Prior to the signing, Brown had recorded one single for the small Stars label in Atlanta, "Did We Have A Party"/"It's Love" (Stars 552), a wild rocker which was reissued by Columbia (41029) in November 1957. He was subsequently brought to Nashville for a session at Bradley Studio on December 18, 1957, which resulted in two of his best rockers, "Meet Me In the Alley, Sally" (Columbia 41100, released in January 1958) and "Flip Out" (Columbia 41297, November 1958). Brown's backing group included two recent arrivees from Atlanta, Jerry Reed (guitar) and Ray Stevens (piano). The other session men were Harold Bradley (guitar), Lightnin' Chance (bass), Dutch McMillin (sax) and Buddy Harman (drums), with Don Law in the producer's chair. These two tracks were my introduction to Billy Brown back in 1979, the release year of "CBS Rockabilly, Vol. 3", an LP compiled and annotated by Stuart Colman. The sleeve notes gave December 14, 1957 as the recording date and suggested that this was possibly a split session with Ronnie Self, who recorded "Bop-A Lena", "I Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "You're So Right For Me" on the same day. However, later research has revealed that the Self session actually took place on December 16 (with different backing musicians, apart from Buddy Harman) and Brown's session two days later. The flip of "Meet Me In the Alley Sally", "I Wanted You" was also recorded on that day.
At the time he was recording for Columbia, Billy lived in Daytona Beach, Florida. Between "Sally" and "Flip Out", Brown had a single released in May 1958, "Next"/"Once In A Lifetime" (41174), which was marred by a female chorus. "Run 'Em Off" (Columbia 41380, April 1959) was a better record, well worth collecting, and had the original version of "He'll Have To Go" (the Jim Reeves hit) on the B-side.
Sales were disappointing and to the best of my knowledge, none of his singles were released in Europe at the time. His Columbia contract was not renewed and Brown moved on to Gene Autry's Republic label, on which he had two singles released in 1960-61. It seems likely that Billy's version of "Just Out Of Reach" (Republic 2007) was the version that inspired Solomon Burke to record the song in December 1960. Brown reappeared on a minor Nashville label, Chart Action, for whom he recorded another version of "He'll Have To Go". There were other Billy Browns on other labels, but it's hard to know if they were this Billy Brown.
Acknowledgements : Partly adapted from Colin Escott's notes for the CD "That'll Flat Git It, Vol. 23 : Rockabilly From the Vaults Of Columbia Records", which includes "Flip Out" and "Meet Me In the Alley Sally".
Terry Gordon's website was also very useful : http://rcs.law.emory.edu/rcs/artists/b/brow1000.htm
The Swedish Star Club label released a Billy Brown LP in 1989 (Jan/Star Club 33-8033). 12 tracks : the five Columbia singles and the A-sides of the two Republic singles.
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