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Author Topic: The life of Richard "Rabbit" Brown (c. 1880 - c. 1937)  (Read 326 times)

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Offline cjblues04

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The life of Richard "Rabbit" Brown (c. 1880 - c. 1937)
« on: April 07, 2022, 10:55:25 AM »
From "The Blues Trail" article about Rabbit Brown:

"Richard 'Rabbit' Brown is believed to have been born around 1880 in, or near New Orleans, Louisiana. However, it is most often believed that his family moved to New Orleans between 1890 to 1900. In the lyrics to "James Alley Blues", his best known song and his self-penned autobiography, he described himself as having been 'born in the country'.

He was brought up in Jane Alley where his parents settled in the 'Battlefield' area, one of the toughest parts of the City. Louis Armstrong lived in this same area, and may have even heard Brown perform at some point.

Noisy during the day, at night Jane Alley was notorious for its bloody fights and frequent murders. The police, who would not enter at night, would come by in the morning to pick up casualties. It was close to the black Storyville area of the city, a district of run-down wooden shanties and shotgun houses where the streets were dusty or muddy, the houses crowded and sanitation primitive, and the equally tough adjoining  white only red light district. 

Brown began by singing on street corners and in the bars in the district to supplement the family income. He was also a regular at Mama Lou's bar on Lake Pontchartrain and made extra as a singing boatman on the lake.

Said to have been a small man, and hence his nickname, he was described by a contemporary as something of a clown and not to be taken too seriously. However the few recordings he made show him to have been a seasoned rather dramatic guitar player capable of dexterity and deep expression, with a somewhat gravely voice. He is also said to have been one of the first artists to learn the 12 bar blues pattern.

Rabbit Brown recorded six sides for Victor in 1927, although only five were released. These included the story songs 'Mystery of the Dunbar's Child', and 'Sinking of the Titanic'.

After the session Rabbit Brown 'disappeared' and there are no further references to him. Some authorities report that he died impoverished in 1937, but this has never been verified. 'Richard Brown' was not an uncommon name and several deaths with that name were recorded in New Orleans between 1927 and 1937. It has been suggested that he may have gone to Chicago where he had a nephew, or perhaps returned to his rural roots but this all remains supposition."

I have been greatly fascinated with this man ever since I found out about him some years ago.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2022, 02:49:02 PM by cjblues04 »

Offline RobBob

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Re: The life of Richard "Rabbit" Brown (c. 1880 - c. 1937)
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2022, 06:23:55 AM »
His repertoire reflexes that which often got overlooked when they were looking for artists to record ethnically adherent material.  His relatively small contribution provides insights into what most musicians actually played as opposed to what got recorded.

Offline TonyGilroy

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Re: The life of Richard "Rabbit" Brown (c. 1880 - c. 1937)
« Reply #2 on: April 09, 2022, 01:44:41 AM »
The Blind Willie Harris recordings are thought to be by Brown. They certainly sound like him and were made in New Orleans.

Offline tmylet

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Re: The life of Richard "Rabbit" Brown (c. 1880 - c. 1937)
« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2022, 11:19:57 AM »
On the Arhoolie CD "Lemon Nash: New Orleans Ukulele Maestro & Tent Show Troubdour," Lemon mentions Rabbit Brown. This is from an interview from 1959 by Dick Allen, Bill Russell & Harry Oster. It seems to be a short excerpt. Papa Lemon describes Rabbit's playing at that time as "."just hitting the guitar and holloring." This interview is in the Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane Univ.

I was disappointed to hear Lemon's description of Rabbit's playing. James Alley Blues was probably the first tune I figured out in an open tuning. I really thought it was something special. Of course that was 40 some years ago.
Dr. Tommy

Offline waxwing

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Re: The life of Richard "Rabbit" Brown (c. 1880 - c. 1937)
« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2022, 01:57:42 AM »
I agree with you about James Alley Blues being special, Dr Tommy. I am fairly certain that he utilizes a "non-opposing" right hand to play the song, or what Brownie McGhee calls "old fashioned picking" in his video of Kansas City Blues. (William Harris uses the technique for Kansas City, also.) Since both the thumb and index finger strike down together, when played with speed and volume this technique can look somewhat like "just hitting the guitar" but it is so much more.

I hear indications in the recordings of Blind Willie Harris that he is using this style of playing, also.  Not rare, I don't think, but another indication it is likely the same artist.

The arrangement also has the interesting technique of playing repeating 3 eighth note phrases, not triplets, until they cycle back around to the down beat. in the response to the I chord in each verse he uses a down-up-up pick, but in verses 6 and 7 he uses a down-down-up pick in the IV chord response. Very special.

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