Delta bluesman Mel Brown dies in adopted hometown of Kitchener, Ont.
Musician Mel Brown, regarded as one of the most talented bluesmen to come out of the Mississippi Delta, has died at the age of 69 in his adopted hometown of Kitchener, Ont.
Miss Angel, Brown's longtime wife and partner, revealed late Saturday that Brown died Friday afternoon of complications from emphysema.
"Laid back, smooth, consummate bluesman," Glenn Smith told the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. Smith was the Kitchener club owner who lured Brown to the city in 1989.
"[He] never raised his voice."
Brown smoked cigarettes for most of his life and his emphysema got so bad six years ago, he had to go on oxygen full time. He was admitted to the intensive care unit at St. Mary's Hospital on March 1 with a collapsed lung and never went home.
Brown played and recorded with many blues legends including B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughn and John Lee Hooker. He also collaborated with the likes of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and David Bowie.
First gig at age 16
Born Oct. 7, 1939, in Jackson, Miss., Brown's first gig was with famous harp player Sonny Boy Williamson who tapped him at age 16 to play guitar. Brown headed to Los Angeles with the band but returned home two years later to refine his craft.
He did return to L.A., where he lived from 1958 to 1967, playing with several bands including Etta James and Sam Cooke. That's where he got noticed by T-Bone Walker, known as the Father of the Blues Guitar, who invited him to appear on an album.
That led to a label deal for Brown, who in 1967 recorded his first album, Chicken Fat — now a classic among blues aficionados.
In 1975, while touring, he fell in love with Miss Angel during a week-long gig in Denver, Col.
They lived together for 13 years and then got married. During that time, they lived in Nashville, Tenn., and then Austin, Tex.
It was in Austin where Brown's life would take a northward turn. Smith was in the city scouting for acts for his new club in Kitchener.
"It was at the end of the night and ... everyone was leaving and this guy is standing on the edge of the stage and playing the electric guitar by himself and I was just floored. I said: 'Who is that guy?'" recalls Smith.
Agrees to lead house band in Kitchener
To Smith's amazement, Brown accepted an invitation to lead the house band at his club. The guitarist moved to Kitchener in 1989 to host a weekly jam night at Pop the Gator.
"He would share his stage generously with you," said singer Cheryl Lescom. "He would welcome you into his space."
Besides appearing on countless albums put out by other musicians, Brown released 13 of his own. In 2004, he was awarded the Maple Blues "Blues with a Feeling" Award, a lifetime achievement award from the Toronto Blues Society.
Though Pop the Gator closed in the early 1990s, Brown chose to remain in the Ontario city.
"He loved living in Kitchener," said Andrew Galloway, of Toronto's Electro-Fi Records, which signed Brown. "The people were so welcoming to him."
During his 20-odd years living in the city, he never ventured far, doing occasional shows in Toronto or London, Ont.
"He loves Kitchener," Miss Angel told the Record.
"He was in the hospital upstairs and he was looking out the window, you know, on the sixth floor so he can pretty much see the whole town, right, and he turned and said to me — 'I love this place. I just love this place.' That's what he said."