Billy Brown

Honky Tonk Heroes: Did We Have a Party

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Billy Brown is an unknown name, but Did We Have a Party, his installment in Bear Family's ongoing Honky Tonk Heroes series, proves that he deserved a better fate. Perhaps this 2012 compilation will give him the credit he deserves. The biggest feather in Brown's cap is that he recorded the original version of "He'll Have to Go," a country standard popularized by Jim Reeves, but that shouldn't suggest that Billy Brown was merely a countrypolitan crooner. Certainly, he had a smooth, easy touch, sliding into ballads with nary a ruffle, sounding similar to his idol Eddy Arnold, but he could also tear it up, as the relentless opening rocker "Flip Out" amply illustrates. "Flip Out" and a handful of similarly minded rockers like "Did We Have a Party" show that unlike some country singers, Brown was ready to jump on Elvis Presley's coattails -- a move that produced some great singles if no hits. Chart success always eluded Brown but it surely wasn't for lack of trying, either from him or his label Columbia, who gave him many bites at the apple. That all ended once Brown discovered Reeves cut "He'll Have to Go," thereby undercutting Brown's version, a situation he put entirely at the label's feet. They parted ways afterward and Brown wound up on Republic, where he abandoned the rollicking rock & roll of his latter-day Columbia sides in favor of a smooth touch not so dissimilar from Reeves, but he did a bit of Elvis/Charlie Rich-styled boogie on "Lost Weekend," another failed single, and he then turned to religion for a number of years before surfacing at the end of the '60s on Challenge Records, recording some modern-sounding country with a slight pop tint. He kept going throughout the '70s, but Did We Have a Party stops there, offering his '50s and '60s prime, the sides that show the range of his talent. The non-chronological sequencing of Did We Have a Party does suggest he backslid from rockabilly into crooning, but this makes for a more dynamic listen, pulling listeners in with his immediate rock & roll then opening up to the cheerful cowboy shuffles of "Tight Wad," barroom weepers of "Drunk, Drunk Again," and occasional incident of bandwagon hopping ("Echo Mountain," a rewrite of "Wolverton Mountain." According to Martin Hawkins' excellent liner notes, Brown suffered from drink and temper, afflictions that derailed his career, but judged strictly on music as he is here, he is a country singer with range, depth, and a pretty impressive, albeit largely unheard, body of work.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 02:30
2 02:04
3 02:56
4 02:24
5 02:14
6 02:04
7 02:02
8 02:27
9 02:05
11 02:23
12 02:55
14 02:43
15 02:51
16 02:52
17 02:45
18 03:00
19 02:17
20 02:04
21 02:22
22 02:47
23 02:29
24 02:59
25 02:03
26 02:52
27 02:21
28 02:47
29 02:49
30 02:46
blue highlight denotes track pick