With none of his material currently on CD, Charles Brimmer is just a name on a handful of 45s and a few hard-to-find albums. However, during the 1970s, Brimmer was one of New Orleans’ top-selling recording artists, a solid exponent of deep Southern soul.
Brimmer was born October 10, 1948 and grew up in the Ninth Ward. Gospel music was his first calling but he was eventually drawn to secular music.
“I started going to the R&B shows at the auditorium,” said Brimmer. “I saw the sharp way that artists dressed and handled themselves. I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
As a sophomore at St. Augustine High, Brimmer began singing with the Ravens, replacing Carl Weathers, who was later cast as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies. Shortly after, Brimmer cut his first single for Camile Incadon’s ABS label.
“Wardell Quezergue was [Incadon's] arranger,” said Brimmer. “He took me to NOLA Records, which was his production company. He asked me to pick some songs to record. I chose, “Barefootin,’” which was written by Robert Parker. I rehearsed it, but a week later Wardell said Robert wanted to record it so I couldn’t.” Brimmer wound up cutting “Now She’s Gone, Gone,” which sold around 3,000 singles. His second ABS single, ”The Glide,” did about the same. After graduating high school, Brimmer joined David Batiste and the Gladiators.
“We did all the latest soul and R&B stuff,” said Brimmer. “Whatever was on the radio. I became popular because I could sing anything that was out, but I projected myself. I got inside the material.”
While Brimmer’s reputation as a first-class entertainer grew, he also continued his education, graduating with an accounting degree from SUNO.
“Music paid my way through college,” said Brimmer. “During the breaks I’d be in the corner studying while the band partied.”
Brimmer’s next two singles, “Black Is Beautiful” and “The Feeling Is In My Heart,” appeared on Dave Bartholomew’s Broadmoor label.
”’The Feeling Is In My Heart’ gained a lot of notoriety,” said Brimmer. “I got a little more airplay and my career got a little more momentum. I began opening shows for national acts.
“At that point [in 1969], I got in a dispute with Broadmoor and ABS (they had a joint production deal). My contract called for the release of an album once I sold a certain amount of singles. The sales were reached, but they refused to do an album. I was still performing, but as a recording artist, I kept myself dormant.”
By 1970, Brimmer was performing with Oliver and the Rockets when he met the ubiquitous Senator Jones, who fronted several small labels including JBs. “Senator [Jones] used to come around and watch me sing,” said Brimmer. “He wanted me to cover an O.V. Wright tune—’Afflicted.’ We cut it, but the side everybody went wild over was ‘Your So Called Friends.’ It was a preaching type monologue I wrote. It was deep soul, it was an inner expression of feelings. Not many artists can express that kind of emotion today.”
The single did well enough to attract the interest of Hi Records, who wanted to lease the single and record an entire album. Somehow, Brimmer’s contract with ABS and Broadmoor was still in effect, and they insisted on producing the album for Hi. Hi lost interest in the project, though, and they passed on Brimmer.
“That was the year before they signed Al Green,” said Brimmer. “I was disgusted and got releases from every record company I’d been involved with. That’s when I started a label with my brother Ivory—Brimco.”
In 1973, Senator Jones was back in the picture. At the time, Al Green had just released the album Al Green Explores Your Mind. The album contained “God Blessed Our Love,” which R&B radio wore out. Record shops were begging for the song on a single, but Hi wouldn’t put it on a 45, as not to slow down the sale of the album. Nevertheless, there was a huge demand for a “God Blessed Our Love” single, even if it wasn’t recorded by Al Green.
“We went to [Deep South] studio in Baton Rouge,” said Brimmer. “My music director, Raymond Jones, said let’s do ‘God Blessed Our Love.’ We did the song on the bandstand, so we rehearsed it that way. After we finished, I said, ‘Okay I’m ready.’ but they had recorded the rehearsal. What they got on tape was a live, relaxed performance of the song.”
Jones took a dub of “God Blessed Our Love” to WXEL in Slidell, which was aired. In the next 48 hours, Brimmer’s treatment of “God Blessed Our Love” caused a major commotion.
“All South Distributors had orders for 10,000 singles, but Senator didn’t have any money to press records,” said Brimmer. “All South contacted Chelsea Records in Los Angles and told them what the situation was. They came here and picked up the master.
“We wound up doing 60,000 singles in New Orleans. It was the biggest single here since the Jacksons’ ‘ABC.’ We did 300,000 nationally, but we could have done more if disco hadn’t affected it. We did an album [Expressions of Soul] which did 10,000.”
Brimmer spent nine months on the road on the strength of his hit. Chelsea released a couple of follow-up singles and a second album, Charles Brimmer Soulman. However, the relationship between artist, producer and label had deteriorated.
“I was disappointed with my productions,” said Brimmer. “I was on the threshold of being really successful. I wanted to compete with the big artists. I wasn’t satisfied just being a local artist but that’s the way they looked at me.
“There was some material I recorded that called for strings, but they cut corners and didn’t use any. I also found out that my royalties were spent on studio time for other artists. I got disgusted and moved to Los Angeles in August of 1976. I moved there because that’s where the entertainment business is. I wanted to find out if I was as good as I thought.”
Brimmer had mixed luck in California. Gigs were especially hard to find, and it was hard to get a foot in the door. He worked by day as an accountant and made pocket money at night singing in talent shows.
“I was a small fish in a big ocean,” said Brimmer.
In 1983, Brimmer returned home briefly to record again with his brother, waxing a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover.” Three years later he moved back to New Orleans in order to be closer to his family.
Not long after his return, he recorded “It’s Mardi Gras Time” b/w “I Don’t Want To Jam On the Groove” on his own label. Since then, Brimmer has concentrated on raising a family and his expanded business career. Today, he’s a financial controller for a health concern and he owns an industrial cleaning business. The last time he sang in public was five years ago at a Jessie Hill benefit that was held at Tipitina’s.
“I went there because a lot of artists that I hadn’t seen in a long time were scheduled,” said Brimmer. “Half of them didn’t show up, so Jessie asked me if I could sing a couple of tunes. I hadn’t been on stage in nearly 15 years but the crowd went crazy. People kept coming up to me after the show and asking where I’d been.”
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Marcia Ball is back in the studio and should have a new album out by the spring. She promises plenty of the New Orleans/Louisiana sound that makes her popular in these parts.
Bear Family Records of Germany is planning a Shirley & Lee collection that will include their classic Aladdin sides.