If you followed rock music in the heady late ’60s, you undoubtedly remember the words for the opening line of “Fire,” by Arthur Brown.. “I’m the God of Hellfire”. The psychedelic single, released in the United States on Atlantic Records, catapulted to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart October 19, 1968; after which the band (which at one time included Carl Palmer, later of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and its eponymous leader never had another hit. Ditto their debut album, also titled The Crazy World of Arthur Brown was produced by Kit Lambert who was the manager of The Who—it managed its way up to #1, then flamed out!
Brown, born in London, originally studied philosophy and law but music took hold and he performed with a few bands, including one that later morphed into The Foundations (“Build Me Up, Buttercup”). In 1967, he formed the ultimate psyche rock band… The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
With his four-octave vocal range and flamboyant stage show, Brown was a quick success in the U.K. and when “Fire” was released in 1968 and it rocketed to the top of the charts throughout the world.
The live performances became more and more outlandish. Brown was known to set various items on fire while wearing them on his head..he wore garish face paint (years before KISS) and occasionally stripped naked on stage. Many gigs had to be stopped because the fire headdress caused the water sprinklers to go off… He had to be rushed to the hospital because he suffered second degree burns to his head and face… “Fire” was covered by everyone from Ozzy Osbourne, The Who and famously sampled by The Prodigy. Along the way, his mixture of epic rock, mythological narratives and outlandish performances fathered a whole new breed of rock star; influencing artists such as Alice Cooper, George Clinton and KISS. As well as his own projects, Brown also worked with Hawkwind and The Alan Parsons Project. Even today he remains an influential figure in rock’s colourful history. Brown was the first to use a drum machine on a major rock record. In the early 70’s he and Jimi Hendrix’s were to go on tour together…It got shelved due to an abundance of LSD. Urban legend claims that the classic Hendrix song, “Fire” was inspired by Brown!
Brown always had a fascination with fire. Once he and his brother set their grandfather’s hair on fire while he was asleep just to see if it would burn, and it did. During interviews Brown claimed that fire had a deep hypnotizing effect because it’s an element that is a basic factor of the existence of our world.
Long before Def Leppard’s multi platinum album, “Pyromania”.. rock and roll had its first pyromaniac. But the novelty was short-lived. Brown—who nicknamed himself the God of Hellfire—disbanded the group in 1969 and joined a commune for some time… Arthur Brown is still with us and by all accounts he’s doing quite well and promises he’ll be back on the road very soon.