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Arthur Brown

Arthur Brown burst out of obscurity in 1968 with "Fire," an energetic and forceful fusion of blues, jazz, psychedelia, and embryonic hard rock with Brown's over-the-top vocals invoking the dangers of the dark side. The standout track from his debut album The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (which was also the name of his group), it was the defining song of his career, but Brown's oeuvre was impressively diverse. He dabbled in prog rock with his later group Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come (best heard on 1972's Galactic Zoo Dossier), upbeat pop/rock (1974's Dance with Arthur Brown), raucous and full-bodied blues-rock (1988's Brown, Black & Blue, a collaboration with Jimmy Carl Black), electronic pop with poetic accents (1982's Speak No Tech), full-on theatrical rock (2022's Long Long Road), and ominous celebrations of all things spooky (2022's Monster's Ball). The common thread that ties Brown's catalog together is his big, booming voice, over-the-top vocal theatrics, and a willful eccentricity that boosts the power of his music. Arthur Wilton Brown was born in Whitby, a coastal town in North Yorkshire, England, on June 24, 1942. After attending a grammar school in Leeds, Brown studied at the University of London and the University of Reading, where he focused on law and philosophy. While he was enrolled at Reading, his interest in music began overwhelming his academic pursuits, and he formed his first band, an R&B combo called Blues and Brown. After a spell in France, where he dabbled in theater and recorded a pair of songs for Roger Vadim's 1966 film The Game Is Over, Brown returned to the U.K. and worked with a number of groups in London. He was a member of the Ramong Sound, a band that played a fusion of R&B and ska; eager to launch a project that would match his outsized stage persona, he left the band to form the Crazy World of Arthur Brown with Vincent Crane on keyboards, Mick Greenwood on bass, and Drachen Theaker on drums. Not long after Brown left the Ramong Sound, they changed their name to the Foundations and scored international hits with "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "Baby, Now That I've Found You." However, Brown would take consolation in the Crazy World landing a record deal with Track Records (Atlantic in the United States), and Kit Lambert and Pete Townshend were part of the production team for their self-titled debut album. They captured a grandiose sound full of drama and menace, and the track "Fire" -- which opened with Brown's fearsome shout, "I am the god of Hellfire!" -- became a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The Crazy World's live show, which featured Brown wearing a helmet that spit fire and occasionally taking the stage naked, help spread the word about the group, and Brown became one of the most talked-about characters in British rock. In the wake of the success of their debut, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown cut a second album, Strangelands. It was originally slated for release in 1969, but executives at Atlantic and Track felt it was too experimental for mainstream listeners, and it was shelved. (It received a belated release in 1988.) Amidst this drama, the band kept touring, and when Drachen Theaker dropped out, Carl Palmer took over as drummer. In June 1969, Palmer and Vincent Crane both quit the Crazy World, and formed their own group, Atomic Rooster. (A little over a year later, Palmer would quit Atomic Rooster to join Emerson, Lake & Palmer.) Meanwhile, Brown set out to launch a new group, and assembled a handful of short-lived acts before Kingdom Come came together in 1971. Featuring Andy Dalby on guitar, Desmond Fisher on bass, Michael Harris on keyboards, Martin Steer on drums, and Julian Paul Brown on the VCS 3, an early analog modular synthesizer, the group's sound was darker and more esoteric than the Crazy World, leaning to the nascent prog rock movement. Polydor signed the new group, and their first album, Galactic Zoo Dossier, was issued in October 1971. The LP was a commercial disappointment, and while the band's highly theatrical live show was popular with more intellectual rock fans, it puzzled more mainstream audiences and made touring expensive and difficult. The group would issue two more albums in 1973 -- Kingdom Come and Journey -- before they split up in frustration. Brown stepped out as a solo act with 1974's Dance with Arthur Brown, a more straightforward and accessible album rooted in international rhythms. His public profile got a boost in 1975 when he was cast as the Priest in Ken Russell's film adaptation of the Who's rock opera Tommy, which was a major box office success. The following year, he made a guest appearance on Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe, the debut album from the Alan Parsons Project. Brown's next album, 1977's Chisholm in My Bosom, reunited him with Crazy World keyboard player Vincent Crane, but it was neither a critical or commercial success. Brown and Crane would collaborate again on Faster Than the Speed of Light, initially released in Germany in 1979. Klaus Schulze, of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, invited Brown to lend vocals to some of his work, and he'd appear on Dune (1979), Time Actor (1979), and … Live … (1980). In the early '80s, Brown left England to settle in Austin, Texas, where he earned a degree in counseling and opened a music-based practice. He also opened a house painting and carpentry business with Jimmy Carl Black, a former member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention who had also settled in the Lone Star State. In Austin, he recorded a pair of albums that combined poetry with electronic music, 1982's Speak No Tech and Requiem; the two albums were given a two-fer reissue by Lemon Recordings in 2010. For the most part, Brown had stepped away from music, though he and Jimmy Carl Black did team up for 1988's Brown, Black & Blue, a powerful blues-rock set. A concert from 1993 was released two years later on the album Order from Chaos: Live 1993. 1995's Jam was an archival date, capturing an improvised Kingdom Come session that pre-dated the release of their debut album. The German industrial act Die Krupps covered "Fire" for a 1997 EP, and Brown came on board to contribute lead vocals for the track; it would also appear on their album Paradise Now. Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson's 1998 solo effort The Chemical Wedding featured a spoken word performance from Brown, narrating poems from the pen of William Blake. That same year, the Pretty Things staged a special performance of their album S.F. Sorrow with a handful of special guests, including David Gilmour on guitar and Brown as narrator; it was issued in 1999 on the album Resurrection. Brown next formed an acoustic group for a joint tour with the singer/songwriter Tim Rose, and they made the 2002 album Tantric Lover with the band credited as the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Vincent Crane teamed up with Brown yet again for 2003's Tarot Rata, an album inspired by Crane's fascination with Tarot cards and Brown's vocals dominating the set. The new Crazy World returned for 2003's Vampire Suite, and Brown became a regular guest at Hawkwind concerts, appearing on their 2006 album Take Me to Your Future. 2008's The Voice of Love, released under the moniker the Amazing World of Arthur Brown, included guest appearances from Dick Taylor and Mark St. John of the Pretty Things. A spate of archival live releases dominated Brown's catalog in the 2010s as he continued to tour extensively, including dates with Carl Palmer's group ELP Legacy and, once again, Hawkwind. Brown returned to recording with his latest edition of the Crazy World for 2014's Zim Zam Zim, an LP that was partially recorded in the terra cotta yurt he called home. Brown celebrated his 80th birthday in 2022, and he acknowledged the occasion by releasing a pair of fresh studio efforts. Long Long Road was recorded with producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Rik Patten. And in time for Halloween, he issued Monster's Ball, a collection of horror-themed tunes that included a wealth of guest stars, among them Steve Hillage, Shuggie Otis, James Williamson, Rat Scabies, and Nik Turner.
© Mark Deming /TiVo

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