Tough Times : John Brim©2005JCMarion


John Brim was born in April of 1922 on a farm in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He soon came under the spell of music and taught himself the rudiments of the blues harmonica. By the time of his teens he started to pick up chords and notes on the guitar heavily influenced by what he heard on the scratchy 78 rpm recordings he heard by Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, and Peetie Wheatstraw. After refining his musicianship to where he believed he could hold his own, he left Kentucky for Indianapolis and by the time he was in his mid twenties he moved to Chicago. Beginning in 1945 Brim became part of the Chicago blues scene and worked with and crossed paths with such stalwarts of the time as Muddy Waters, Memphis Minnie, Big Bill Broonzy, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Big Maceo Merriwhether.

In 1946 he met his future wife Grace, and by the time they were married one year later, she was an accomplished harp player and drummer. She soon joined John in a group together based in their new home town of Gary, Indiana. Brim formed his own group called The Gary Kings which featured a transplanted Mississippi Delta blues man named Jimmy Reed. The group played a number of clubs in the Gary-Chicago area for a few years until Brim finally got a chance to record in 1950. Under the tutelage of Big Maceo, the John Brim Combo with Grace on vocals, James Watkins, and Big Maceo recorded "Strange Man" and "Mean Man Blues" for the Fortune label and was released on # 801. The next recording session was held the next year in Chicago for the small Random Records label with Roosevelt Sykes on piano. The songs were "Lonesome Man Blues" and "Dark Clouds" which was released on # 201. Grace took the vocals on a record that was listed on the label as by Mrs. John Brim, again featuring Sykes on piano with the tunes "Going Down The Line" and "Leaving Blues" released on Random # 202.

In 1952 Brim recorded with another Detroit based label called J.O.B. Records with Sunnyland Slim on piano. The songs were "Humming Blues" and "Trouble In The Morning" which were released on # 110. Grace also recorded a J.O.B. side with Sunnyland Slim on the tunes "Man Around My Door" and "Hospitality Blues" and was released on # 117. His combo was called John Brim & His Stompers when he next recorded, back in Chicago for the Parrot label. Long time Jimmy Reed band mate Eddie Taylor was on guitar with Grace on drums for "Gary Stomp" and "Tough Times" a far reaching contemporary blues song. Parrot released the tunes on # 799. John surrounded himself with a group of Chicago blues giants under the name he had used years earlier - John Brim & His Gary Kings. This combo included Robert Junior Lockwood, Little Walter, and Fred Below and recorded for the great Chicago independent company Chess-Checker. The songs were "Rattlesnake" and "It Was A Dream" on # 769. "Rattlesnake" was viewed by many as an answer record to Willie Mae Thornton's "Hound Dog", and Chess had reservations about promoting the song.

In April 1954 "Tough Times" shows up on the R & B best sellers lists in Detroit and Chicago. About this time Detroit's J.O.B. label noticing the sales for "Tough Times", releases a tune by Brim from a session a year earlier called "Drinking Woman" on # 1011, with the flip side by Sunnyland Slim. In 1955, a new version of John Brim & His Gary Kings with the Dalton Brothers James and W.C., along with Grace on drums, record "That Ain't Right" and "Go Away" on Chess # 1588. In March of 1955 Chess records promotes the sides in the trade press-a first for Brim. "Lifetime baby" and "Ice Cream Man" are also recorded but never issued. The songs will figure in Brim's career years later. There is one last recording for Chess in 1956, with the all star group from the "Rattlesnake" session with the addition of Willie Dixon on bass. The songs were "I Would Hate To See You Go" and "You Got Me Where You Want Me" on Chess # 1624.

After that recording, an unfortunate incident occurred that led to a disagreement between Brim and Chess Records which ended his recording career until the early seventies. In the passing years, Brim and numerous small combos often featuring Grace played many local clubs in the area especially at the Club 69 in Joliet, Illinois, as well as blues and music festivals throughout the Midwest. In 1971 a brief return to the recording studio with Grace and son John Jr. produced two originals "Moving Out" a snappy instrumental, and "You Put The Hurt On Me" which the Brim family produced on their own BB label. It would be close to two decades before Brim recorded again. He played often at the Elsewhere Lounge in Chicago during the nineteen seventies.

In the meantime, late seventies hard rockers Van Halen featuring guitar whiz Eddie Van Halen and front man David Lee Roth had uncovered Brim's originally unreleased "Ice Cream Man" and wanted to record their version for their first album in 1978. Brim gave the group his OK to record the tune, the album was a huge seller, and Brim received a much welcome royalty check which gave him the financial backing to open his own night spot in Gary called the "House Of Blues". Brim also had a record shop and a couple of dry cleaning establishments going for him during those years.

In 1989 Brim recorded a CD with Pinetop Perkins, and five years later recorded a CD called "Ice Cream Man" for Tone-Cool # 1150. In June of 1999, his life and musical partner Grace Brim passed away after 52 years together. Four years later in 2003, John Brim passed at the age of 81.

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