Cowboy Roy Brown,
Street Singer
(Delmark, 2007)

Cowboy Roy Brown was one of this nation's most fabulous musical eccentrics. A street singer and one-man band, he played a guitar named Baby and a kazoo called Leon. He occasionally beat a rhythm on the face of his guitar with what sounds like a pencil, but there's no evidence that he gave it a name. Although he called himself a cowboy singer, he performed any type of song he liked and his tastes roamed all over the musical landscape.

He was born in Arkansas in 1875 and learned to play guitar from his minister father so he could accompany him when he played the violin at his services. As soon as he was old enough, he left, spending 10 years in Kansas City soaking up music. Then he went on the road, supporting himself as a street singer while he drifted around the nation. Settling in St.. Louis, he performed on the streets there.

Street Singer was made there in the late 1950s or early '60s. He opens the album with a fingerpicked version of Leadbelly's "Green Corn" and provides the song with a wild kazoo solo. A touch unusual. When you first hear the CD, if you're like me, you'll ask yourself, "What the hell is this?" About 15 minutes into it, though, you'll be saying, "This is wonderful." Cowboy Roy knows every form of popular music and plays it all -- folk, blues, jazz, pop, cowboy tunes ... there's even a polka medley on there. He plays whatever he likes and he appears to like it all.

It's the most eccentric music around, as well as the most original. Believe me, Cowboy Roy Brown is about the best one-man band on the planet and this is the best record by a one-man band in his 80s you will ever hear.

Yes, I know. It's the only one you'll ever hear. That being the case, make sure you hear it. It's a slice of Americana you can't get any more. They just don't serve this particular flavor of American pie any more, and we all know they should. Delmark Records deserves credit for keeping it alive.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

25 August 2007

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