Mel Brown - Swamp Fever
Mr. Mel Brown
Greetings! Happy New Year (sincere)! Happy Monday (sarcastic)! New Years Eve, aside from the distressing image of Dick Clark in decline, was pretty cool – spent with family – good food, lots of laughs. Strangely enough (or not) despite all the celebration and symbolic demarcations of the new year, the world we live in is pretty much the same now as it was in the last week of 2005 . We cross the imaginary line at midnight, and at least in our minds, things are supposed to be refreshed. It’s like we get to roll our odometers back on January 1st – our slates cleaned, we put our resolutions into motion, more often than not doing little more than lip service to the notion of change. I guess it’s all just part of how we pass time. In deference to those who feel they are undergoing some kind of temporal renewal, and as a result are feeling extra sensitive, chafed or raw, I’ve decided not to start the year with anything too explosive. I don’t want any bruised psyches on my hands. However, at the Funky16Corners blog, I try to maintain a level of quality in the musical selections, and as it is in all things, one mans pablum is another mans leg of lamb (whatever that means). So, while I’m willing to back away from “explosive”, I refuse to go any lower on the quality scale than “kick ass”. If that’s still too strong for your blood, I expect you’ll have to go elsewhere until your vital bodily humors are sufficiently restored. Today’s selection is one of the first cool records I found when I started digging for funk 45s in earnest. My pal Haim had hepped me to a motherlode of 45s, way out in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Located in the rear of an unassuming looking music store was a room filled floor-to-ceiling with crates of 45s, all more or less sorted into alphabetical order. Now, let me state right up front that we were not the first diggers to go through this place. We’d heard stories about deep-pocketed out of towners with lots of time on their hands flying in and pulling all the super-rare stuff. That said, there were still tons of cool 45s, the majority of which were unplayed “store stock”. There were lots of common things, pockets here and there of multiple copies of uncommon things, and the occasional uber-bargain (like my $2.00 copy of Mary Jane Hooper’s ‘I’ve Got Reasons’). There were also thousands of records I’d never heard of before, which in a place with lots of room to work, and a record player, was just about a slice of heaven. Over the course of a few years I probably made four or five trips out there, dropping several hundred dollars and carting home a whole lot of records. I am sad to say that the last time I was there, it appeared that the owners had stopped bringing in new stock, and that most of the old stuff had been picked through quite thoroughly as word got out on the digger grapevine. A sad day indeed. Mel Brown’s ‘Swamp Fever’ was one of those records I’d never heard of before. I pulled it out to play because it was on the Impulse Label, so I figured at the very least I might have an interesting jazz jukebox 45 on my hands. As soon as I dropped the needle on the record I knew it was much cooler than that. Opening with a tasty drum break (which for some strange reason does not appear to have been sampled), the tune soon flies off in a storm of funky, chicken-likken guitar. Pulled from Mel Brown’s 1968 LP ‘The Wizard’, ‘Swamp Fever’ also features an extended break in the middle of the record (I believe the drummer is none other than Paul Humphrey). The flip side is a nice, atmospheric take on Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’. Brown was something of a West Coast journeyman guitarist, having spent a few years with Johnny Otis, backing the Olympics and Etta James, and then working for a few years as an in-demand session player. While playing on a T-Bone Walker LP, Brown was spotted by Bob Thiele who signed him to Impulse records. Between 1968 and 1971 Brown recorded five LPs (and one ‘Best of’ package) for Impulse. He later became part of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s band, before settling in Nashville as a studio musician. He still plays and records today.