Oh he’s crazy all right, just not in a bad way. He’s Crazy Marvin and he’s just crazy enough to make you laugh and show you a good time. He plays the harmonica, sings, cracks jokes, lets loose a wild, cackling laugh that would make a hyena blush.
It’s not hard to find Marvin. He’s either playing with his own band, the Blues Express, or sitting in at a local jam. It’s not hard to get Marvin to get up and play, it’s what he loves to do. It’s probably harder to get him to stop.
Marvin Braxton, was born on MAY 30, 1943. His dad, Charles Braxton was a supervisor for the city, who also played boogie woogie piano, ran an occasional after-hours spot, and, according to Marvin, cooked up a terrific batch of home-brew every so often.
Marvin’s mother, Laura, confined her piano playing to the church.
Marvin grew up in the Miles Park section of South-East Cleveland. Miles Park, once known as Miles Heights, had been a separate community with a mostly African-American population that, in 1929, elected the first Black mayor in Ohio.
Marvin had another name for his neighborhood.
Marvin attended Beehive Elementary school and then Nathan Hale Jr. High, but never went on to high school. He didn’t want to go to school; he wanted to work. And he wanted to work with horses.
He started at Thistledown Racetrack, now in North Randall, then moved on to Cranwood and Northfield Park racetracks. He kept on moving.
Marvin was, in the parlance of the Racetrack world, a Hot Walker. The primary job of a hot walker is to walk the horses on a lead after races or training sessions to cool them down. Though there are mechanical devices that can do this, a good hot walker can make a difference by helping to spot problems, and a good hot walker will know how and when to vary the horse’s cooldown speed and walking direction. The hot walker is also usually responsible for cleaning and grooming the horses after racing or training sessions.
A good hot walker can get work at any racetrack. They usually stay at one track for the length of the racing season, then move on to another track for the season at that track.
Tracing Marvin’s musical career isn’t easy. He moved constantly, following the different race track seasons around the country, but he generally marks the beginning of his music career at Cleveland’s Leo’s Casino, where he won a contest. The prize was $100, which he didn’t get, but the contest did result in his going to New York City, where all kinds of things began to happen for him.
He won the amateur talent night contest at the Apollo…twice, and got himself a job delivering the internal mail at the CBS building.
At that time Marvin was calling himself “Little Jimmy Reed” or just “harmonica”, and was hanging around with a lot of very famous, very important musicians.
One of these was the legendary Sylvester, “Sly” Stone, of Sly and the Family Stone. In late 1969, Sly and his manager David Kapralik, talked A&M records into letting Sly have his own record label, Stone Flower. The idea was that Sly would produce the records and play all of the instruments on them, while promoting new vocal talent, who’s names would be on the record. Stone Flower’s first two releases were by the group “Little Sister” which did indeed include Sly’s younger sister Vaetta, or “Vet” as she was usually called. Their first record, “I’m The One” Parts one and two reached as high as number 22 on the charts.
The next group to record was called 6IX and included Marvin Braxton on vocals and harmonica.
With 6IX Marvin opened shows for Sly and the Family Stone and often performed as backup band for Little Sister.
They say you should hitch your wagon to a star, and Sly Stone certainly was a star. But he went nova very quickly and soon burned out.
Fortunately, Marvin a lot of other very important friends.
One of those friends was Jimi Hendrix. On September 25, 1969, Jimi invited Marvin to record two songs with him at the Record Plant on 44th street in New York. The recorded “Drinking Wine, Sipping Time” and “Villanova Junction”. The songs were never released commercially, but are occasionally found one of the hundreds of Hendrix bootlegs that pop up periodically.
For a while Marvin lived in in Greenwhich Village’s legendary Chelsea hotel.
Marvin’s next move was West.
Eventually, Marvin decided that his traveling days were through and he returned to Cleveland where he met and married his first and only wife, Rita, settling in with her and her large family in their house in Glenville.
Marriage induced Marvin to change at least some of his ways.
He joined the band Dave and the Blues Express. After Dave’s death the band became Crazy Marvin and the Blues Express, and some of those musicians are still in the band today.
Marvin never meant to give up traveling completely. His harmonica and his blues have taken him overseas twice.
At age 70, Crazy Marvin may have slowed down just a bit, but he hasn’t completely forgone insanity. He’s dropped a few of the more outlandish costumes but still enjoys showing off his collection of wild hats.
And he still plays the blues.