I'm finally leavin', after all
One last word, I don't wanna holler down the hall
Everybody leaves somethin' when he goes away
After I'm gone, here's what I hope will stay
Violets in springtime
Starry nights in fall
Sunlight on a summer's morning
Love to warm you when the snowflakes fall
The spark in the eyes of children
And secrets whispered by the sea
A countryside like a great cathedral
A place called home, a land forever free
This will be my last will and testament
Being of sound body and mind
This will be my last will and testament
These are the things I choose to leave behind....
The Things I’ve Saved, Joe & Eddie, The Magic of Their Singing, GNP Crescendo, 1966
The summer of '66 burned hot, angry, tragic. The first black student at the University of Mississippi, James Meredith, was shot during a civil rights march in June. Lyndon Johnson bombed Hanoi and Haiphong three weeks later, ratcheting up the war in Vietnam. Richard Speck murdered eight student nurses on the 14th of July, and Charles Whitman killed 13 people from his U of Texas tower on the first day of August. Five nights after that, folk singer Joe Gilbert was driving home from another SRO appearance at the Cosmos Club in Seal Beach, California. He missed a turn on an access road between the 710 and the Santa Monica, flipped the car his new fame had bought, and was pronounced DOA.
Joe Gilbert sang The Things I’ve Saved at his final recording session, and to my knowledge it was the only song he didn't share with his partner, Eddie Brown. Had he lived, there's no saying how far the folk/gospel/pop duo Joe & Eddie might have traveled. They were way ahead of the curve, and people were just beginning to find out.
The times were changing. The face of American popular music had begun to mirror more than ever the size, shape, and social mores of the generation that is today contemplating retirement and yet another ill-considered war. We watched it all happen, the tail end of pop music’s transition from intimate amateur parlor performance, through the network television era, to sold-out stadium concerts with fireworks and $40 t-shirts for sale, and as the thin man said, we didn't know what was happening. Revolutions can be like that.
As sure as 15th century Florence was the center of a sea change in the visual arts, the recording studios of New York and Hollywood in mid-20th century America were in large part responsible for changing the world of music. Joe & Eddie, by 1966, stood at the confluence of authentic soul and the heart of commerce, a perfectly-timed amalgam of the “real” and the made-for-TV. In an age of enormous diversity of taste and presentation, in a world where Top-40, rock, jazz, folk, show, gospel and Western music fragmented a voracious audience, Joe & Eddie, two young black men from south of the Mason-Dixon line, were accepted across the board. They were the biggest of “crossover” acts, maybe the first.
They were the best pop group you’ve never heard.
Eddie Brown was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1941. Joe Gilbert, born the same year, grew up in New Orleans. Between them they had 12 siblings, and their earliest musical influence was Gospel. In the late 40’s the Brown and Gilbert families moved to Berkeley, California, and the two boys met in the mid-50s at Willard Junior High School. They began singing together at Berkeley High School, where they met Professor Earl Blakeslee, Doctor of Music. Dr. Blakeslee recognized their unique blend as a duo, taught them harmony and counterpoint singing, and introduced them to early American folk tunes, classical ballads, and songs from other countries.
In 1958, the boys entered a talent competition together because they didn’t want to compete against each other. They won the contest and their partnership was born.
They turned professional at the height of the folk music craze. Decades before, America had warmed to the socially aware songs of Woodie Guthrie, Josh White, Pete Seeger and The Weavers. By the early 60’s Harry Belafonte had introduced Caribbean folk songs to the states, and The Kingston Trio had a huge hit with Tom Dooley. In rapid succession The Brothers Four, The New Christy Minstrels, Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Rooftop Singers, Phil Ochs, Tom Rush, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, among many others, had assimilated and transformed all that had gone before, sharing the airways and phonographs of America with that new kid on the block—Rock n Roll.
Berkeley, for a time, was the center of it all, and Joe & Eddie played the usual fraternity and sorority house gigs. The pair’s unique performance style took shape very early in their career: blending gospel, folk, and blues, they regularly juxtaposed Eddie’s baritone melody line against an inspiring tenor obbligato from Joe. They played with jazz-influenced time signatures and complex patterns of repetition. Truly, there was nothing like it.
Their proverbial “big break” came on The Don Sherwood Show, a San Francisco variety program. They soon became regulars at The Purple Onion, along with The Smothers Brothers and Bud and Travis. A booking agent named Bill Weems got them eight weeks at The Hungry I in 1962, which led eventually to Hollywood.
Los Angeles disc jockey and concert promoter Gene Norman was president of GNP/Crescendo Records and also co-owner of the Crescendo and Interlude nightclubs. The GNP/Crescendo catalog was full of great jazz acts from the 50s, and when Norman heard Joe & Eddie, with their jazz influences overlaying their folk, gospel, and blues roots, he knew he had to record them. It didn’t hurt that the boys had energy to burn, enormous confidence as performers, and were extremely good-looking. They signed with GNP/Crescendo at the suggestion of loyal agent, now manager, Bill Weems. Their debut album hit the stores early in 1963, the same year The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was turning the business upside down. By the time Joe & Eddie had played Jack Paar’s Tonight Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Mike Douglas, Regis Philbin, Steve Allen, and Danny Kaye, they were bona fide stars.
Their second album was released in the summer of ’63 and contained their signature tune, There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight, which became an enormous hit. Ironically, they recorded Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind a few months before Peter, Paul and Mary delivered it, but Joe and Eddie didn’t like the song and it was never released.
They recorded such diverse material as Ewan MacColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Children Go Where I Send Thee!, George Gershwin’s Summertime, Mariah from Paint Your Wagon, and The House of the Rising Sun.
With success came inevitable change, and with popular music itself changing as well, almost on a daily basis, the boys were looking for a new direction by the summer of ’66. Who or what they might’ve become is one of the music industry’s great unknowns. They could’ve taken off as pop crooners like The Righteous Brothers. They might’ve headed into R&B or even Rock n Roll; The Chambers Brothers, good friends, had backed them, after all, on their 1964 recording of Didn’t It Rain?.
Their manager, Bill Weems, remembered the boys this way:
Joe & Eddie were one of the most unique acts I’ve seen in all my years, and I’ve been involved with singers from Frankie Laine to Johnny Ray, Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Connie Francis and Jimmy Rodgers…when you first saw these kids, they would impress you more than any of those people. Their enthusiasm was amazing. They were fearless as far as walking on a stage went, and they had the greatest stage presence. You could put them with Danny Kaye, Jackie Gleason…nothing bothered them. They had plenty of guts, and the two of them complemented each other, vocally and visually, so well. There was a line that one of the (concert) reviewers out there used, he said ‘It was a teaming made in heaven.’ You can’t put a combination like that together. They never missed, wherever they went. Joe & Eddie were special from day one.
Though Eddie Brown still records and produces to this day, the phenomenon known as Joe & Eddie came to an abrupt and tragic end in a too-fast sports car that sultry August night.
Their testament was music born, indeed, in heaven.
The Joe & Eddie Discography
Exciting Folk Duo/Joe and Eddie GNP/Crescendo 75
There's A Meetin' Here Tonight GNP 86
Coast to Coast GNP 96
Joe & Eddie Volume 4 GNP 99
Tear Down The Walls! GNP 2005
Live In Hollywood GNP 2007
Walkin' Down The Line GNP 2014
The Magic Of Their Singing GNP 2021
The Best Of Joe & Eddie GNP 2032
The Gospel Truth GNP 2052
Down To Earth Sunset SUS-5210
(a re-issue of Joe & Eddie's first LP GNP-75)
The Best Of Joe & Eddie CD GNPPD 2032
( a re-issue of "Best Of,” 12 songs with 14 more songs from their eight original albums)