Born Arthur Wilton Brown in Whitby, Yorkshire, Brown attended the University of London and the University of Reading and studied philosophy and law. During this time, though he also gravitated to music.
In the mid-1960s, he was a temporary member of a London-based R&B/Soul/Ska group that was in the process of changing its name from The Ramong Sound and morphed into the hit making soul group The Foundations. The group had two lead singers: Arthur Brown and Clem Curtis, who sang lead on the Foundations 1967 hit "Baby, Now That I've Found You." Brown was only a member of the band for about six weeks. By the time the Foundations had been signed to Pye Records Brown had left the group to form his own band.
Brown earned a reputation for outlandish and often macabre performances, which included the use of a burning metal helmet that led to occasional mishaps, such as a Windsor, England, show in which the methanol fueling of the helmet crown poured over his head by accident and caught fire; two bystanders doused the flames by pouring beer on Brown’s head.
He also often stripped naked while performing shows, notably in Italy, after setting his hair on fire as well. He was arrested and kicked out of the country.
By 1968, the debut album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, became a surprise hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Produced by The Who's manager Kit Lambert, and executive-produced by Pete Townshend, it spun off a surprising hit single, "Fire." "Fire" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
The song saw its infamous opening line "I am the God of Hellfire" sampled in numerous other places, most notably in The Prodigy's 1992 rave anthem "Fire." The album also included a macabre cover of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins oldie "I Put a Spell on You." The band included Drachen Theaker on drums, who was replaced by Carl Palmer, later of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, during the band's second American tour.
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Brown's incendiary stage act sometimes caused trouble, such as getting him kicked off a tour with Jimi Hendrix. On one tour, Brown waited until sunset when his band was playing, and then he had a winch lower him onto the middle of the stage from above, wearing a suit and helmet welded from sheet metal. Parts of the suit were completely lit in lighter fluid and sparklers.
Brown created a perception that he was always on the verge of setting fire to the stage, leading some concert organizers to demand he post a bond with them if he could not show he was adequately insured against uncontrollable fire and fire damages.
Though Brown never managed to release another recording as commercially successful as "Fire," he did release three noteworthy albums with his new band Kingdom Come in the early 1970s. Kingdom Come albums featured a wild mix of progressive rock and demented theatrics, including Brown's simulated crucifixion. The third and final Kingdom Come album, Journey, is one of the first rock albums to feature a drum machine.
In later years, Brown released several solo albums and also contributed vocals to the song "The Tell-Tale Heart" on the Poe-based concept album Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. In 1975, Arthur Brown also had a small part in The Who's rock opera movie Tommy as "The Priest."
In the 1980s, Brown moved to Austin, Texas, and obtained a master's degree in counseling. In the mid-1990s Brown and fellow counselor Jim Maxwell co-founded Healing Songs Therapy, a unique service that culminates in Brown creating a song for each client about their emotional issues.
Brown returned to England in 1996. In 1997, he rerecorded "Fire" with German band Die Krupps. In 1998, he provided a spoken-word performance on Bruce Dickinson's The Chemical Wedding album, reading a portion of three poems by William Blake.
Brown provided vocals on two of the tracks on Hawkwind's studio album Take Me to Your Leader, which was released in 2005. One is the spoken-word "A Letter To Robert," where Brown recalls a conversation with Robert Calvert.
Brown reunited the surviving members of Kingdom Come in 2005, for a one-off concert at The Astoria in London, performing material from Kingdom Come's album Galactic Zoo Dossier, with an encore of "Spirit Of Joy." This show won Brown the 'Showman Of The Year' award from Classic Rock magazine.
In 2007, Brown and Pynn released Voice Of Love on the Côte Basque record label, featuring a number of original recordings. Later that year, during a concert in Lewes, Sussex, Brown once again set fire to his own hair. While trying to extinguish the flames, Phil Rhodes, a member of the band also caught fire.
Arthur continues his association with Hawkwind, touring with a support set for them on their 40th anniversary tour in the UK in 2009.
On June 10, 2011, Arthur played a nearly two-hour set at the Ray Davies Meltdown Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.