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New York Cool - Interview

Maxine Brown:
Still Here and Still Hot


Interviewed by William S. Gooch

If Justin Timberlake really wants to bring sexy back, he should first talk to Maxine Brown. Whether performing for a hardcore R&B crowd or Broadway audiences, this musical icon of the sixties and seventies is always regally sexy. I first caught a performance of Maxine Brown this past June at the Fashion 40 Lounge on W. 40th Street. In a form-fitting, sequined yellow gown, Ms. Brown commanded the small stage of the Fashion 40 Lounge with a sultry charm. Only an experienced performer of Ms. Brown’s caliber can continue to enchant devoted fans and capture new audiences with her eclectic mix of jazz, blues, R&B hits and American standards. Still here and still hot, with legs that could rival Tina Turner’s, Maxine Brown never let her sexy or her incredible talent fade away.

William S. Gooch: Where are you from?

Maxine Brown: I am originally from Kingstree, South Carolina but I moved to New York City as a teenager.

William S. Gooch: What were your early musical influences?

Maxine Brown: I grew up in the Pentecostal Church so my early influences were mostly gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, but I did occasionally listen to American standards on the radio.

William S. Gooch: How did you get into the music business?

Maxine Brown: I sang with several gospel choirs and groups as a young adult and then I got a job as a singer with the Charles Taylor Singers, a popular gospel group of the 1950’s. Some of the guys left the group to form an R&B group and they asked me to join as the girl singer. I was also starting to write songs at that time. Anyway, we got some studio time to record and the group took up so much time attempting to record their music that there was very little time left over for me to record my own songs. That was supposed to be a part of the bargain we had made with the recording studio. Anyway, I only got to record one demo and that song turned out to be “All In My Mind” and from that demo I got my first record contract with Nomar Records.

William S. Gooch: So that was your first big hit.

Maxine Brown: Correct, but in the beginning there were some twist and turns with that song. Tony Bruno ran the Nomar Record label and made the mistake of playing “All In My Mind” for some distributors and they had a little white girl in Chicago rerecord that song. But in the end my version did well and got to be a hit record.

William S. Gooch: How do you compare the music scene in the 60’s to the current music scene?

Maxine Brown: Broadway was hot in the 60’s. By Broadway, I am not talking about the theatre, but the area on the westside of Manhattan between 57th and 44th streets. Anyway, you could walk down the street and see every pop and R&B music performer. You could see them going in and out of the Brill Building or the CBS Building. You would see them in Lindy’s, which was next door. You heard people singing and writing and selling songs just to make rent money. You had groups singing on street corners, hoping to get an engagement or a record deal. We didn’t make big money back then, unlike the kids coming into the music business today who know how to make lucrative record deals.

William S. Gooch: Well, isn’t it good that young artists now know how to make lucrative money deals?

Maxine Brown: Money-wise it is a good thing but sometimes the artistry is lacking. In the 60’s when you heard James Brown or Jackie Wilson, you immediately knew who it was. Their voices and style was so identifiable. Unfortunately, many R&B and pop singers today sound too alike. Their style is not distinctive.

William S. Gooch: How did your big hit “Oh, No Not My Baby” come about?

Maxine Brown: The Shirelles originally did the song, and their producer didn’t really like the recording, so he scrapped it. Since we were both on the same label, my producer, Stan Green, found the song in archives and thought the song was perfect for me. And so I recorded it. Carole King and Jerry Gaffin wrote that song. After Carole King heard me do it, she came up with my follow-up song, “ It’s Gonna Be Alright.” I was with the Wand label at that time.

William S. Gooch: Were you ever tempted to go to Motown?

Maxine Brown: No. Motown was too crowded with excellent artists. Gladys Knight and the Pips knew it was crowded when they went there, but it worked out for them. It got them out to a wider audience.

William S. Gooch: What composers have you worked with other than Carole King?

Maxine Brown: Carl Vann, Luther Dixon, Ed Campbell and Van McCoy. I got Van McCoy to produce me at the label Avco Embassy and because of that he got to record the early disco hit, “The Hustle.”

William S. Gooch: What was happening to you career in the 80’s?

Maxine Brown: It was very difficult for artists of my generation to even get a recording contract. The record industry was taken over by attorneys.

William S. Gooch: So how did you handle the new corporate management style of the 80’s?

Maxine Brown: I did two things. I went to acting school and from that training I got the Broadway show, Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope. I also had tours in Europe, and that sustained me.

William S. Gooch: Why do you think you were still popular in Europe during the 80’s?

Maxine Brown: Europeans love American artists and they are very loyal. They hold the songs that were popular where they were young as sacred. They know everything about the artists. They know the producers, the backup singers, everything. European audiences even knew that the Sweet Inspirations were my backup singers. Very few Americans ever knew that.

William S. Gooch: Could you talk more about your Broadway experience?

Maxine Brown: It was so exciting because my first acting role was on Broadway. It was a musical not a straight play. I was the first and last voice you heard in Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope. I have done some musical revues since Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope; in fact, I did a revue in Japan last year.

William S. Gooch: Your repertoire includes many different musical styles, how did that come about?

Maxine Brown: As a child growing up in the South we didn’t have black radio stations, so the only music I heard on the radio was American standards and country. During a slow period of my recording career I had a nightclub act and I had to include jazz and American standards in the act. This increased my versatility and repertoire, so to speak. So, hearing that type of music as a child informed my nightclub act later.

William S. Gooch: Tell me about your most recent album released in 2005?

Maxine Brown: I was doing a big tour in Amsterdam and while in a restaurant in Amsterdam some other artists and myself were singing some new tunes we had written. Something came over us in that restaurant, and we had some much fun singing and talking about our new material. When we go back to the States, we booked some studio time and just recorded some of the material we had enjoyed singing in that restaurant. And we named the album, “From the Heart” because so much of the material really came from our hearts. Four songs on the album were co-wrote by my writing partner and me. There are also two songs on the album written by Leslie Gore, “Love Me By Name” and “The Other Lady.”

William S. Gooch: What is next for Maxine Brown?

Maxine Brown: I am trying to put together a Vegas act, and I have a European tour starting in October.

William S. Gooch: Thank you, Ms. Brown this has been an absolute pleasure and a history lesson for me.

Maxine Brown: You are more than welcome. The pleasure was all mine.

If you want to know more about the legendary Maxine Brown, visit her website, maxinebrown.com.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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