The Queen of R&B was around before the Queen of Soul, and Aretha Franklin picked up a lot of Ruth Brown’s sass and attitude.
Thinking of my midwestern roots and the lessons my mother—another in-your-face lady named Ruth—taught me about speaking truth to authority and not backing down from a challenge.
Brown played a character (Motormouth Maybelle) in John Waters’ Hairspray, but I’d love to work her songs into a reimagined version of Gone with the Wind.
Ruth Brown was a rhythm-and-blues trailblazer with a rich, expressive voice known to knock down some pretty racy lyrics. Nicknamed the Queen of R&B, she recorded her biggest sides for Atlantic Records, itself sometimes called the “House That Ruth Built.” Her mega-hits “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” “Teardrops from My Eyes,” and others made piles of money for the label and its founders. But somehow, Brown didn’t get paid her five-percent royalties. She took on the record company when she was 60, when her peak performance days were past her, after a lawyer (and ardent fan) offered to make Atlantic pay. The singer got her royalties plus an agreement to fund her Rhythm & Blues Foundation, dedicated to helping down-and-out performers.
Brown’s first LP for Atlantic, Ruth Brown, is a compilation of hit singles recorded between 1949 and 1956. Miss Rhythm collects her popular sides released between 1954 and 1959. By the early 1960s, she was gone from Atlantic, even though the imprint released The Best of Ruth Brown (which includes a 1960 session song with Eric Dolphy in the band) in 1962. During the 1960s, Brown released a handful of albums on the Solid Stated, Cobblestone, and Skye labels, and proceeded to continue touring for the rest of her life. The dozen songs on Miss Rhythm show the vocalist at the top of her game and relying on her incredible range. While the backing bands vary from song to song, they are uniformly composed of top jazz and session players.
The front cover of Pure Pleasure’s LP depicts the standard mono cover. However, on the back and in the vinyl deadwax, the catalog number is listed as SD 8206. While it’s unlikely these early singles were recorded in two-track stereo, the stereo sonics here do not sound electronically rechanneled for stereo. Indeed, the production sounds like mono—and very good mono at that, with a fairly wide stage rather than instruments lined up front to back in a mono row.
Atlantic rarely made a bad-sounding record, and even at this early date, it did a very credible job. The reissue sounds close to an original pressing with one exception: The original has a top end that can get a bit harsh on crescendos. Pure Pleasure cleans that up without dynamic limiting or shaving the high end.
Last chance to change your mind...