Born Wayman Glasco, 15 August 1911, Cordele, Georgia
Blues singer and harmonica player Buster Brown was already approaching the age of fifty when he scored a # 1 R&B hit in 1960 with the effervescent "Fannie Mae". The record was also a Top 40 pop hit.
Prior to this Brown had never made a professional recording, although the Library of Congress archives held two titles by him (then unissued) recorded at the Fort Valley (Georgia) State College Folk Festival in March 1943. Brown played harmonica at local clubs in his native Georgia and drove a cab in his hometown of Cordele before moving to New York City in 1956, where he worked in a chicken and barbecue joint. There he was discovered by Bobby Robinson, who owned the Fire and Fury labels. Robinson took the part- time entertainer into the studio in the summer of 1959. One of the songs recorded was "Fannie Mae" (with Jimmy Spruill on guitar), which Robinson released in November (Fire 1008). Then Robinson went on the road to promote the record, first in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, then Chicago. Robinson recalls**:
"There was a deejay in Chicago named Big Bill Hill who had a dry cleaning plant on the West Side and he would broadcast from the window of his business. Someone had told me to take him a bottle of House of Lords Scotch. So I walked in with my bottle of scotch and introduced myself. He whipped out a couple of glasses and I brought out a copy of "Fannie Mae". He cued it and listened to it and put it on saying 'Ladies and gentlemen, here is an old friend of mine, Bobby Robinson - he'd never seen me before - came all the way from New York to see me, everybody comes to see Big Bill Hill, we're sitting here like two bugs in a rug, too cool to move'. He had a lot of sayings like that. Then he said, 'He's brought me a smash hit record here by a new artist, a guy named Buster Brown, like the shoes. I'll tell you what, we're going to play it a few times and give us all a little buzz and let us know what you think of it.' He had about eight phones and played that record about twelve times in a row. He was drinking his scotch and he'd say, 'That sounds good, let's hear it again! '. I thought to myself this guy would get fired. The next morning I had orders for 5,000 records. Chicago went crazy for it. I had to rush back to New York to press up the record."
The selling point of "Fannie Mae" was its infectious riff, which later formed the basis of at least two other songs, "Help Me Rhonda" by the Beach Boys and "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man" by the Rolling Stones (B-side of "Satisfaction"), both from 1965. "Fannie Mae" peaked at # 38 pop and topped the R&B charts for one week. But Brown's reign as an unlikely star was short-lived. Robinson issued several follow-ups, including a remake of Louis Jordan's "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" (# 81 pop) and the excellent "Sugar Babe" (# 99 pop, # 19 R&B), which was covered by Jimmy Powell in the UK. After one-off singles on the small Gwenn and Serock labels, Brown was signed by Chess Records in 1964. Though he recorded at least fifteen titles for the label, only one single was released, "Crawling King Snake"/"In the Presence Of You", in 1965 (Checker 1099). He made his last record in 1969, for the Astroscope label, "Fannie Mae's Place" and died in Brooklyn at the age of 64.
** Quoted in the liner notes for "The Golden Age Of American Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 9" (Ace 800), by Rob Finnis.
CD: The Very Best Of Buster Brown : 22 Original Classics. Released by Collectables in 1999. Fire recordings.
Acknowledgements : Rob Finnis.
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