LOUIS BROOKS

Born Louie O'Neal Brooks, 19 March 1911, Nashville, Tennessee
Died 5 May 1993, Nashville, Tennessee

Sax player / band leader. Louis Brooks and his Hi-Toppers are best remembered for their smash Excello collaboration with singer Earl Gaines on "It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)", which went to # 2 on the R&B charts in 1955 and was success- fully covered by Ruth Brown (# 4) Hank Ballard and the MIdnighters (# 10).

"Louis" is actually a misspelling of Louie, most likely perpetuated by Excello for consistency's sake. His father, also a saxophonist, played in a New Orleans-styled jazz group. Nearly all of the Brooks' were musical : out of thirteen children, eleven could play an instrument or sing.

During the fifties, Brooks and his four-piece R&B combo recorded a series of solid instrumentals, revolving around Brooks' broad-toned tenor saxophone and the rollicking piano of Lovell "Knot" Phillips. They gained experience playing in a Nashville club called Sugar Hill. By the time they cut their first Excello sides in 1954, they were already an experienced studio outfit. For the small Tennessee / Republic label they played behind such artists as Christine Kittrell and recorded some instrumentals of their own. When not backing out-of-town artists, the Hi-Toppers were fronted by a succession of Nashville singers that included Earl Gaines, Larry Birdsong and Helen Hebb (sister of Bobby Hebb, who had a # 2 hit with "Sunny" in 1966). The Hi-Toppers didn't tour much beyond a couple hundred-mile radius of Nashville, as they preferred to focus on their regional fan base and session work. Louis Brooks in particular was loathe to accept any road gig that would keep him from clocking in on time for his day job at the First National Bank (a job from which he eventually retired just two days shy of his 50th anniversary there). So it is no wonder that he never achieved national fame, but as a studio player he and his band helped define the very sound of Excello Records, arguably the pre-eminent Southern R&B label of the 1950s.

There are nine Excello tracks by Louis Brooks and his Hi-Toppers on the CD "Southern Rhythms" (Ace 662). My personal favourite is "Chicken Shuffle", the instrumental B-side of the hit "It's Love Baby".

 
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