WILLIAM BROWN a founding member of Stax vocal group, the MAD LADS died on Friday 24th July. Brown was 69 and he passed away at Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in East Memphis,. His health had been poor since he suffered a stroke.
Brown was born in Memphis and he founded his first group, the Emeralds in 1964 with school friends John Gary Williams, Julius Green and Robert Philips. He also worked in the Satellite Record store owned by Stax founder Estelle Axton and after convincing her to come and see his group perform she signed them to Stax’s subsidiary, Volt. Ms Axton, it appears, wanted a harmony group on her roster to rival those scoring the hits on the big East coast labels. However, because there was already a group called the Emeralds, Brown’s boys adopted a new name, The Mad Lads… either (depending on who you believe) because they were known as studio pranksters or in deference to local DJ, Reuben “Mad Lad” Washington.
Soon the group enjoyed local success with ‘Don’t Have To Shop Around’ and ‘I Want A Girl’ but in ’66 Brown and Williams were drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam. When they returned two years later the two other original members refused to take them back. They, it seemed, preferred working with their replacements – Quincy Blips and Sam Nelson (both later of the Nightingales). The Stax execs though insisted that Brown and Williams re-join. Dissent in the band’s ranks was increased when Williams was arrested or ambushing a policeman in 1969, followed the next year by Green being imprisoned for fraud.
With the Mad Lads disintegrating around him, Brown began a career as an engineer and by 1973 the most successful group in Memphis were no longer. In the mid 1990s they reformed but like many of their contemporaries they were assigned to the oldies circuit.
Stax histories also reveal that William Brown’s engineering side line brought him plenty of work as a Stax studio engineer – most notably working on the Isaac Hayes’ ‘Shaft’ soundtrack. His engineering skills also took him to the Ardent and Royal studios. Indeed he composed several songs with Willie Mitchell. Brown also contributed backing vocals to dozens of other Stax recordings. He is survived by wife, Martha, three children, two adopted children, and a stepdaughter. John Gary Williams is now the sole remaining original Mad Lad.