Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jul-Aug Contents 12 Rhythms
at one point in the mid-‘60s ray Brown and the
whispers were the most successful band in australia,
scoring number one hits with each of their first three
singles, and achieving four top five hits in just six
months. yet Brown, who died at only 51 years of age in
1996, seems to have been largely forgotten in annals
of australian rock history.
Reissue specialist Blank Records is doing their bit to
amend that by releasing Brown’s 1970 album, Mad House,
with the more experimental outfit moonstone, for the first
time since its original pressing.
By 1970, though still only in his 20s, Brown had been well
and truly chewed up and spat out by the music industry.
From ranking alongside Normie Rowe, The Easybeats
and The Aztecs in the mid-‘60s, Brown’s career became
entangled in legal complications, due primarily to the
fact that his contracts were signed while he was still
under 21 years of age. These complications spelled the
end of The whispers in 1967 and, once his contracts were
sorted, Brown embarked on a solo career that, in terms
of record sales, was devastatingly disappointing. After
releasing a solo debut album, Same Old Song... Brand
New Beat, backed by max merritt & The meteors on some
tracks, Brown took up an opportunity to record an album
for Capitol in the USA.
The resulting album, Just Ray Brown, is truly a lost
curiosity. Almost impossible to find now, it was recorded
with a killer session band overseen by eccentric
genius David Axelrod who worked with Lou Rawls,
Cannonball Adderley, and The Electric Prunes. with
a massive budget, on paper, the project looks exciting.
Unfortunately, the label chose all the material, much of
it insipid pop songs like ‘Both Sides Now’, and ‘Groovin’.
As Brown told an interviewer at the time, "Capitol spent
$30,000 on it, put in a 30-piece orchestra and then
wouldn't let me pick my own material."
with lush arrangements, killer bass grooves, which,
I’m guessing, were supplied by Axelrod cohort Carol
kaye (unless someone was paid to imitate her) and
probably contributions from other Axelrod regulars like
Earl Palmer and Howard Roberts, the album sounds
incredible. one can only imagine what could have been
achieved had Brown been allowed free reign over the
song selection. opening track, ‘Don’t Fall In Love’ shows
all that promise, with psychedelic organ, propulsive bass,
a full horn section and a dark memphis soul feel. with
Brown’s voice soaring over the top, it’s powerful stuff. But
Just Ray Brown sank without a trace and the fact that it’s
virtually impossible to even find a copy now suggests
that there weren’t many printed.
Disgruntled, but undaunted, Brown returned home in
1969 to form a new band, moonstone, with Jimmy Doyle
and mal Clarke. Though the band was described as
having a country rock bent, Brown clearly absorbed a lot
from working with Axelrod. Mad House is an ambitious
psychedelic creation, brimming with orchestration, sitars,
tablas, spoken word and, above all, an infectious spirit of
In the liner notes, Brown himself wrote: ‘In recording, you
can lie a little harder. You can try a little harder. But the
most important thing of all is to be honest a little harder.’
After the Eastern wig out opening track, ‘Story of
Ali’, complete with narration from radio announcer
John Torv, the album swings into Crosby Stills Nash
& Young territory with the slinky ‘mr Blue’ (maybe a
nod to Young’s ‘mr Soul’?). Tablas hum under Byrds-
like country-soul guitar riffs. ‘king Velvet’ heads into
Hoyt Axton/Bobby Bare territory with the half-spoken,
half-sung ‘king Velvet (king of The Rodeo)’. The
album swings between the psychedelic and the straight,
‘oh, Sarah’ a heart wrenching ballad about losing your
children, ‘Flight of The Gulls’ a dense experiment
of reverse recordings that takes Brown’s experiences
recording ‘Groovin’ and sends them through a wormhole.
Just to make things extra psychedelic, Side B of my
version of Mad House seems to have the grooves
printed slightly off centre giving a slow pitch wow!
From the combination of soul bass grooves and flute,
Byrds harmonies and twanging guitar on ‘Run Silvie
Run’ through to the sitar and acoustic guitar west Coast
warmth of ‘Carry me Back To LA’ (clearly Brown’s time
there can’t have been all bad), through to the raw boogie
of ‘Busted’, Mad House continues to surprise and enthral.
I highly recommend you track down a copy – just be sure
to check that the pressing is centred!
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