MUSICAL LIVES, 2003
Celebrating Senior Musicians of Santa Cruz County, CA

 

 

Ralston Brown

 


Photo by Jane Hancock

Ralston Brown, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ralston Brown
(1927-2004)
Singer and Drummer

Ralston Brown was born in New Orleans in 1927 and moved to Oakland with his parents at the age of seven. He first decided he wanted to be a drummer when he saw Shelley Wilson twirling his sticks up on stage in a dance band called Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy. His mother, a tailor, was a very good piano player and fine singer who encouraged her son’s interest in music. Ralston started playing in nightclubs while still a teen—-many of the older musicians at that time were being drafted.


Ralston Brown

“My very first job was a top notch club,” Ralston recalls, “with a floor show, singer, dancer, comedian, tap dancer—I was scared to death! My heart was running—I’d never played a show in my life.” That first night was hard, but Ralston persevered. “When I first started, most of the musicians that I played with were old enough to be my father. And they would take me into the back room and would say, ‘it goes like this kid, bup bup,’ and they’d tell me what they wanted me to do. And sometimes an older musician would say well, if you’re going to learn, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. That’s the way I learned. School of hard knocks.”


The Four Sharps in 1954

After a stint in the services during the war, Ralston returned to music. Because of the musicians’ union and club contracts, he could make a living playing throughout the Bay Area, though he also supplemented his night gigs with day work in a number of trades. “I was,” he says, “just a working musician. Just like a 9 to 5 guy—you did it from 9 to 2 in the morning.” Ralston played as far afield as Sweetwater, Texas, where he and his band mates were stranded after their booking agent ran off with their money!


Ralston with the Amazing Jazz Geezers, 2003

Ralston first started playing in Santa Cruz in 1953, performing every summer in the Casbah, Mamboo Gardens, The Top Hat, and other nightclubs that then lined Beach Street across from the Boardwalk. “Kids would come in the daytime in their bathing suits and dance and they’d go home and come back dressed up and looking nice and we’d play at night for them. It was fun.” He moved to Santa Cruz full time in 1970. Since then he’s performed steadily in many popular jazz combos, appearing at such venues as the Colonial Inn, C’se Bonne, Brookdale Lodge, Dream Inn, Pasatiempo Inn, Peachwoods, Anatacio’s, Seascape, 2525 Main Street, and Severinos.