Still Here and Still Hot
Interviewed by William S. Gooch
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.
S. Gooch: Where are you from?
Brown: I am originally from Kingstree,
South Carolina but I moved to New York City
as a teenager.
S. Gooch: What were your early musical
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.
S. Gooch: How did you get into the
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
S. Gooch: So that was your first big
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.
S. Gooch: How do you compare the music
scene in the 60’s to the current music
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.
S. Gooch: Well, isn’t it good
that young artists now know how to make lucrative
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
S. Gooch: How did your big hit “Oh,
No Not My Baby” come about?
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.
S. Gooch: Were you ever tempted to
go to Motown?
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.
S. Gooch: What composers have you worked
with other than Carole King?
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,
S. Gooch: What was happening to you
career in the 80’s?
Brown: It was very difficult for artists
of my generation to even get a recording contract.
The record industry was taken over by attorneys.
S. Gooch: So how did you handle the
new corporate management style of the 80’s?
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.
S. Gooch: Why do you think you were
still popular in Europe during the 80’s?
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.
S. Gooch: Could you talk more about
your Broadway experience?
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.
S. Gooch: Your repertoire includes
many different musical styles, how did that
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
S. Gooch: Tell me about your most recent
album released in 2005?
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.”
S. Gooch: What is next for Maxine Brown?
Brown: I am trying to put together
a Vegas act, and I have a European tour starting
S. Gooch: Thank you, Ms. Brown this
has been an absolute pleasure and a history
lesson for me.
You are more than welcome. The pleasure was
If you want to know
more about the legendary Maxine Brown, visit
her website, maxinebrown.com.