Charlie Brown

fred neil & charlie brown

charlie, i’m told you owned the old gaslight south cafe. I had always heard that sam hood owned it?

c: sam hood opened the gaslight cafe in the early 60s. but he had enough with running the gaslight in nyc so he sold it to me. i came down from memphis around 1964 and i bought the gaslight south from him.

so, when fred played the gaslight south for sam first and then for you?

Idont think that fred played for sam hood. fred didn’t really get along very well with sam. fred was quircky and he didn’t get along with sam. there’s a tape of fred at howard solomons club in nyc where he fights with sam (the show at the elephant-my note) .but i got along very well with fred, he played for me several times.

there’s the question of whether fred ever played in memphis or nashville before he went to nyc. did fred ever mention anything to you about this?

as far as i know fred never was in memphis. he went to nashville before he ever went to nyc. to try and make it there. but he spend a few months there and couldn’t make it so he went on to nyc where he made it big. but no, he told me that he went to nashville, never to memphis.

was fred born in ohio or florida?

fred was from st pete. i don’t know anything about ohio he was from st pete. That’s what i know. I went up with him once to visit his folks…

you met fred’s family, his father too?

no his father passed away when fred was 7-8 years old. do you know how fred got into playing the guitar? his dad worked in the jukebox industry and he had a jukebox in his room. i saw it when i went up there with him. he would take his guitar and play along with all the songs on the jukebox . that’s how he got into playing the guitar.

so charlie, you recall fred and vince martin playing together at the gaslight south?

yes, fred and vince played several times at my club. and fred by himself too. several times .

why did fred and vince break up?

fred had an act with vince martin back then, but fred, you know was the best, so he played with vince when he needed to and when he didn’t he just went off by himself. fred was the best, you know, he didn’t need anyone. sometimes he’d play with other people but he didn’t need anybody, he was the master.

how about dylan, did dylan ever play at the gaslight south?

no. not dylan, but somewhere i have an article when i find it ill give you a copy of all the people that played the gaslight. jose feliciano, joni mitchell, josh white, spanky and our gang, simon and garfunkel. everyone played there. that was back in the sixties.

did fred ever speak about his time with dylan?

fred gave dylan his start! in nyc. fred introduced dylan to the nyc audiences. but dylan he wasn’t a very friendly person and i don’t think him and fred really got along. i think they had a bit of a rivalry going up there. they were the two masters. they saw each other as the competition. bob used to come around up in woodstock when fred was up there in the late 60’s, but he never would say much and always kept to himself. fred was hanging out with danko then and bob would come around and look around but wouldn’t hang out he was never someone who talked much, not a friendly guy.

let me ask you fred the performer, how he seemed not to like to perfom live

fred was not a performer. fred was a songwriter. he was never a performer. fred was very quircky, that the way he was. if someone wanted him to do something he’d go ‘aahhhh’ and find a way not to do it. he was very quircky that’s the way he was. but he was never really a perfomer. he was one of the greatest songwriters.

how about the stories that fred was cheated by all the music people out of his songs and his royalties?

I don’t think that’s true. fred never had any wanting for money. i recall that once he showed me a royalty check for a quarter of a million dollars. fred never hurt for money. he got a sizeable chunck when the midnight cowboy movie came out, that i remember. back then i did an article about fred and fred let me go through his files a bit and everybody’s talkin was the number one covered song! fred’s files had over 400 artists covering that one song. that song made fred a lot of money. he had probems when it came to having to support his wives and all that. he had a bunch of kids to support and divorces. fred was married 3 times, one of his sons live right down the street here.

how about howard solomon? you remember howard, he say hi, by the way…

oh yes i remember howard quite well. quite well

how about the stories that howard did not do right by fred when it comes to money?

nonsense. howard made tons of money for fred. thats why fred kept coming back to howard! ! he made fred money. they may not have got along but fred didn’t get along with too many people, thats the way he was.

let’s talk a bit about the dolphin project benefits shows, you were involved in those, i’m told.

yes, i promoted all those shows.

do you remember when they actually took place?

fred did two, one a smaller show with john sebastian and then another show with buffett and danko. i don’t remember the dates. i don’t remember fred playing with buffett. not with buffett. the buffet show was one of the greatest shows i’ve seen, but it was buffet alone at the coconut grove playhouse. he was supposed to come down with the coral reefers but when he got here he was by himself. i said, jimmy where’s the band? and he said , o they couldn’t make it. so he went onstage just with his guitar and played for over 3 hrs. brought the house down. did every song he knew. one of the greatest shows i’ve ever seen.

so you dont remember the shows where fred played?

ahhhhh there were so many benefits for the dolphin project. fred was into it with his friend ric o’barry. the show i remember doing was the show at the jai alai fronton with stephen stills and his group. fred did that show.

did he do a set?

no. he did just one song. everybody’s talkin. we set up a chair and fred was a little high and when he went to sit down the chair broke, but he managed to do that one song.

were the shows taped? videotaped or audio?

o yes, but fred destroyed the tapes. did it in front of me. he enjoyed doing that sort of thing. fred destroyed things like that all the time just because he didn’t like things to come out on him. i think he enjoyed doing it.

charlie, do you remember danny finley, panama red?

i know him well. he wrote ‘bottom dollar’, which fred recorded.

thats right, fred recorded it during the bayshore sessions. he did an album of covers. strange that fred didn’t record any of his own songs.

i have a list somwhere of songs that fred wrote or performed but never recorded. one he used to do all the time was ‘miss the mississippi and you”. it has the most beautiful melody. that’s a jimmie rodgers song. jerry lee lewis and others have covered it, it is a great song.

you mean to say that fred performed after the 60s and early 70s?

fred played the guitar every day of his life for all the time that i knew him. yes he did. fred had a friend in the grove, bob, who is still around who fred taught to play the guitar. after he got good at it he got a gig in the keys, but when the time came for him to do it, he got cold feet and went to see fred to tell him he didn’t think he could do. so fred, said ‘aahhhhhhh’, ok lets go. and fred did the gig with him unannounced down in the keys for several weeks. that was fred.

now in the late 60s sometime fred moved to woodstock. did he move there to work?

yes fred lived in woodstock for a long time. he moved up there because he got married. he had a log cabin. i spent time up there with fred. those were great times. fred liked to sit and get a little high and watch the snow fall. he would take a piece of tape and put a peanut on the back and tape it the window and then sit back and watch the squirrels come and try to get. the squirrel would try and try to get and fred would just laugh and laugh. he loved it. he would give the squirrels a bunch of peanuts later but he made them try to get the taped one first. we would go down to joyous lake and sit back and play with danko, and fred’s friends would come around and we’d drink bloody maries. that was the kind of thing fred enjoyed, playing with his friends. he liked playing with his friends when he wanted not when others wanted him to- those were great days. he left woodstock when he got divorced and lost the cabin in the divorce, if i remember correctly.

seems that fred loved the grove, yet he left and never came back. how come?

he had a personal tragedy which made him leave. never came back. i know a lot of people felt that fred turned his back on the grove. none of us knew where he was. we’d hear every so often from his friends. we knew he was in austin with jerry jeff for awhile. jerry jeff told me the story about fred sitting around somewhere and a kid walking up to him who looked just like fred with a guitar in his hand. he told fred ‘i’m your son’. and fred said ‘well, lets get acquainted.’ next thing jerry jeff knew, the two of them jumped in a vw van and went to california.

…charlie, thx for talking with me.

no problem. in the next few months i’ll be writing a long article about fred for the paper i write for, i’ll let you know when it comes out.

the end.

Henry Llach
May 2002

(special thnx to the good folks at the brasse cafe)