By Amanda McBride
The Choctaw Plaindealer
Blues musician Texas Johnny Brown died July 1 while fighting lung cancer. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2013. His son, Shawn Brown, cared for him until he took his last breath.
The family of Texas Johnny Brown made the trip from Texas to Ackerman the weekend of July 12-14 to honor his last wish-to spread his ashes at Mt. Salem Baptist Church.
John Riley Brown, famously known as Texas Johnny Brown, was born in Ackerman and lived in Choctaw County until he was nine years old.
Brown moved on to become one of the legendary figures of the American blues scene.
The Town of Ackerman, Choctaw County and the state of Mississippi honored him with his own plaque on the Mississippi Blues Trail in September 2011.
Texas Johnny Brown along with his Quality Blues Band attended the unveiling of the marker in downtown Ackerman along with almost 50 people in attendance.
With the help of the Choctaw County Chamber of Commerce, Brown and his band, played a free concert in downtown Ackerman to celebrate the event.
Texas Johnny Brown was able to share his love of music and life before the concert in a Meet and Greet at the chamber office. Here is told stories of his childhood in Ackerman and about his life.
Many attended his concert, some never hearing the blues before, and left with an appreciation for music, living life to the fullest and Texas Johnny Brown.
To learn more about the legendary Texas Johnny Brown stop by the Blues Trail marker at the Bruce Burney Memorial Walking Park in downtown Ackerman.
Below is Texas Johnny Brown’s obituary, provided by Shawn Brown, Johnny’s son.
John Riley Brown was born February 22, 1928, in Ackerman, MS, to blind bluesman
Cranston Exerville “Clarence” Brown and his wife. He had two brothers and three sisters: Cranston Exerville “Pete,” Robert, Daisy Mae, Maureen, and Margie.
Johnny attended Mount Salem Baptist Church and school and later lived in town with his mother until she died when he was nine.
Johnny went to live with his father, a blind street singer-guitarist and former railroad employee. Young Johnny danced and played tambourine with him, while their dog, Carburetor, strummed the guitar on cue. The Browns lived in New Orleans, LA and Natchez, MS in between trips to towns in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
In Natchez, a Hollywood producer, impressed by their act, invited them to Virginia in 1940 to appear in the film “Virginia.” Twelve-year-old Johnny, his dad, and their dog were featured in the opening sequence.
A few years later, Johnny decided he wanted to join the Merchant Marines. He left home, but only had enough money to buy a train ticket to Alexandria, LA. He knew a few people in Alexandria including a certain young lady he had a particular fondness for. Johnny started his musical career at age 16. While working in a music store in Alexandria the owner offered to teach him to play the guitar. Since music was in his blood, he took the man up on his offer. The rest is history.
During his early days as a musician he was told that he needed a stage name. Because of his popularity in the Houston area the name proposed was Texas Johnny Brown. He said, “That’s all right with me.”
Texas Johnny Brown is truly one of the legendary figures of the American blues scene. Johnny began his professional musical career in Houston in the mid-1940s with Amos Milburn’s “Aladdin Chickenshackers.” Johnny played guitar on many of Milburn’s recordings on Aladdin Records, and Milburn and other members of his band backed Johnny during his Atlantic Records recording session in 1949. Johnny also appeared on Ruth Brown’s first Atlantic Records recordings, which were cut during those sessions.
On September 17, 1950, Johnny married the love of his life, Rosie Lee Jones who he had known since he was 16 and she was 13. They were the proud parents of Lynville and Shawn.
Johnny’s musical career was interrupted briefly when he was drafted into the United States Army. After returning from his tour of duty in Korea Johnny resumed his musical career as he toured with Bobby “Blue” Bland and Junior Parker in the 1950s and 1960s as guitarist and band leader. He was also a studio musician for Houston’s Duke/Peacock Records. He recorded a number of his own compositions for Duke/Peacock, including Snakehips and Suspense, and his distinctive guitar style graced the recordings of numerous other Duke/Peacock blues artists, including Bland, Parker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Larry Davis, Lavelle White, Buddy Ace, and Joe Hinton. Johnny also wrote the beautiful blues classic, Two Steps from the Blues, which was one of Bland’s biggest hits.
Three of Johnny’s original songs from his Atlantic recording session, There Goes the Blues, Bongo Boogie and Blues Rock, were included on an Atlantic compilation of blues guitarists in 1986.
Over the years, Brown took odd jobs but given his history in Houston, he became a
venerable player on the local blues scene in 1991 after retiring from other work, and finally made two fine jazz-tinged blues records as a leader in 1998 and 2002.
Johnny recut There Goes the Blues for Nothin’ But the Truth, his debut full-length CD, which was released in 1998 by Choctaw Creek Records. Nothin’ But the Truth also marked the first time that Johnny recorded Two Steps from the Blues himself. Nothin’ But the Truth was nominated for a W.C. Handy Blues Award (1999) for Comeback Album of the Year and received Real Blues Magazine’s Real Blues Award as Best Texas Blues CD (New) and Best Independently Released Blues CD for 1998.
Choctaw Creek Records released Blues Defender, Johnny’s critically acclaimed second CD, November 2, 2001. Blues Defender contains ten original compositions by Johnny and a beautiful rendition of Lil Green’s In the Dark.
After Johnny returned to music full-time in 1991, he and his Quality Blues Band performed monthly at the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club in Houston for years, as well as all across the United States, Canada, and Europe. They also played many prestigious festivals, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington, D.C.; the Chicago Blues Festival; the Pocono Blues Festival; the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival; the Lucerne Blues Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland and many more.
Johnny was honored as Blues Artist of the Year at the Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton Blues Festival September 22, 2001 in Houston, TX, and September 22, 2001 was declared Texas Johnny Brown Day in Houston. He has also been featured on the cover of Juke Blues magazine (England) and Southwest Blues magazine, in Soul Bag magazine (France) and several times in Living Blues Magazine.
Johnny has won numerous Houston Press Music Awards for Best Blues, Best Guitarist and Best Male Vocalist.
His accolades are many, but his true legacy lay behind his beautiful smile, warm heart and undying love for his family, fans and the music that brought all of us so much joy.
Johnny was diagnosed with Lung Cancer in May 2013. His son cared him for
Shawn until his death the evening of July 1.
Johnny was preceded in death by his parents, five siblings, and loving son Lynville.
He leaves to mourn his passing his devoted wife of 63 years, Rosie L. Brown; his dedicated son Shawn (Pflugerville, TX); granddaughters Brooke and Amaya Brown (Pflugerville, TX), and Victoria Colston (Cuero, TX); grandsons Dominique Colston and Kristopher Calhoun (Houston, TX); and a host of brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives and friends.
Facts compiled from stories as told to the author by TJB, family, and friends, as well as the following sources: