Brown was born in Swarby, Lincolnshire. His family moved to London when he was two and ran the Sultan public house in Grange Road, Plaistow, then in Essex, now part of the London Borough of Newham. In 1956, Brown formed The Spacemen skiffle group, which lasted until the skiffle movement faded towards the end of the 1950s. He worked for British Railways at their Plaistow Locomotive works for two years in the late 1950s, becoming a steam locomotive fireman. He left the job because "the smell of the diesels drove me out when they took over from steam".
In 1958 Brown was spotted by television producer Jack Good who hired him as lead guitarist in the orchestra of his new TV series, Boy Meets Girls. During this period he backed a number of U.S musicians such as Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran on their UK tours.
Brown signed a management agreement with Larry Parnes and signed to Decca Records. He charted with "The Darktown Strutters Ball" in 1960 and had UK Top 10 hits on the Piccadilly label in 1962–63 with "A Picture of You", "It Only Took A Minute" and "That's What Love Will Do". Piccadilly's release of Brown's "Crazy Mixed Up Kid" in April 1961 was the label's first single. Brown's recording band was a collection of session musicians, and was named the Bruvvers by Jack Good to give Brown the identity of having his own backing band for record releases. It was in 1962 when he needed a band to tour with him that 'Joe Brown and the Bruvvers' was cemented, containing two members of the Spacemen, brothers Tony and Pete Oakman, who had also remained with him in the "Boy Meets Girls" band.
Brown was voted 'Top UK Vocal Personality' in the 1962 NME magazine poll. During the 1960s Brown appeared in a number of films, pantomime and stage musicals. In December 1963, the film What a Crazy World, based on a stage play, starring Brown and Marty Wilde among others, had its world premiere in London, while he also starred in the hit musical Charlie Girl in the West End between 1965 and 1968, and starred in the musical comedy film Three Hats for Lisa in 1965, alongside Una Stubbs, Sophie Hardy and Sid James . He also made a cameo appearance as himself in the 1964 film The Beauty Jungle, and presented the children's television series, Joe & Co, on BBC Television, three series of The Joe Brown Show for ITV.
In 1972, he formed another band, Brown's Home Brew, which played rock and roll, country and gospel music and featured his wife, Vicki Brown, who died of cancer in 1991, and Pete Oakman from the Bruvvers. This eclectic collection of musical styles, together with his hits, became the basis of his live sets ever since.
In the 1980s, Brown presented a daytime quiz show on Granada TV called Square One; its success led him to recording a pilot for the prime time game show The Price Is Right but ATV selected Leslie Crowther for the full-time presenting role when the series launched.
He also hosted Show Me, an early evening game show produced by Anglia Television and aired on ITV for one series in 1987, and made a brief appearance as Dudley, a crooked club owner, in the 1986 film Mona Lisa, opposite Bob Hoskins.
George Harrison was best man at Brown's second marriage in 2000; Brown had appeared on two songs on Harrison's album Gone Troppo, and also featured on a Track on Harrison's last album, Brainwashed. Following Harrison's death from lung cancer on 29 November 2001, Brown appeared with his group at the tribute concert Concert for George singing "Here Comes the Sun", "That's The Way It Goes" and "I'll See You in My Dreams", accompanying himself on the ukulele for the latter.
Brown still performs and makes occasional television appearances. In 2005 he co-wrote a musical, Don't You Rock Me Daddio, with songwriter Roger Cook, while in December 2006, he was one of three guest hosts of Sounds of the 60s on BBC Radio 2 during the absence of host Brian Matthew, having already presented two series on rock and roll for the same station.
In 2008, Brown's 50th anniversary celebrations included a UK gold album for sales over 100,000 copies of Joe Brown – The Very Best Of, a 37-date spring tour, an all-star concert at the Royal Albert Hall with Mark Knopfler, Jools Holland, Dennis Locorriere, Dave Edmunds, Sam Brown, Chas & Dave and others, and a 36-date autumn-winter tour.
His album More of the Truth was released in the UK on 13 October 2008, and in 2009 the US musical instrument manufacturer Kala launched a series of 'Joe Brown' ukuleles. At the Mojo magazine's awards in London on 11 June 2009, Brown was presented with the lifetime award for outstanding contribution to music after 51 years' recording. Mojo's album, Harrison Covered (November 2011), to mark the tenth anniversary's of George Harrison's death, included Brown's recording of the former's "That's the Way It Goes".
Brown pulled out of the Village Pump Folk Festival for medical reasons. Due to headline the Friday night of the event taking place from 25 July 2014, he was replaced by Peatbog Faeries.
Brown was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to music.
In late 2010, Brown was asked by Rick Parfitt of Status Quo to support them for the arena section (nine shows) of their UK tour in late 2010, and he continued to tour throughout 2011. A triple DVD and CD set of the latter tour was released of his show at the Liverpool Philharmonic.
Brown married Vicki Brown, a singer with both the Vernons Girls and the Breakaways, before she became a session singer, who died of cancer in 1991. Their daughter, Sam Brown, is also a singer and their son, Pete Brown, is a record producer who produced all but one of Brown's nine most recent albums and also tours with him. Joe subsequently married Manon Pearcey, partner of former Small Faces singer Steve Marriott (who also died in 1991) and mother of singer Mollie Marriott, in 2000.
Joe Brown is known in British rock music history to have introduced lead guitarist Hank Marvin of the Shadows to the Italian Meazzi Echomatic echo unit (because he himself could find no use for it), in so doing contributing greatly to the sound of The Shadows and Cliff Richard and The Shadows.1959 "People Gotta Talk" / "Comes the Day" – Decca – F111851960 "The Darktown Strutters Ball" / "Swagger" – Decca – F11207 UK No.34 †1960 "Jellied Eels" / "Dinah" – Decca – F112461961 "Crazy Mixed Up Kid" / "Stick Around" – Piccadilly – 7N350001961 "Good Luck and Goodbye" / "I'm Henry The Eighth" – Piccadilly – 7N350051961 "Shine" / "The Switch" – Pye – 7N15322 UK No.331962 "What A Crazy World We're Livin' In" – Piccadilly – 7N35024 UK No.37 †1962 "A Picture of You" – Piccadilly – 7N35047 UK No.2 †1962 "Your Tender Look" – Piccadilly – 7N35058 UK No.31 †1962 "It Only Took A Minute" – Piccadilly – 7N35082 UK No.6 †1963 "That's What Love Will Do" – Piccadilly – 7N35106 UK No.3 †1963 "Nature's Time For Love" – Piccadilly – 7N35129 UK No.26 †1963 "Sally Ann" – Piccadilly – 7N35138 UK No.28 †1963 "Little Ukulele" – Piccadilly – 7N351501964 "Don't" / "Just Like That" – Piccadilly – 7N351941964 "You Do Things To Me" – Piccadilly – 7N351631965 "Charlie Girl" – Pye – 7N159831965 "Sicilian Tarantella" – Pye – 7N158881965 "Teardrops in the Rain" – Pye – 7N157841966 "A Satisfied Mind" – Pye – 7N171841966 "Little Ray of Sunshine" – Pye – 7N171351966 "Sea of Heartbreak" – Pye – 7N170741967 "With a Little Help from My Friends" – Pye – 7N17339 UK No.321968 "Davy The Fat Boy" – MCA – MU10301969 "Sweet Music" / "Suzanne" – MCA – MU10821970 "Molly Perkins" – Penny Farthing – PEN7181973 "Hey Mama" – Ammo – AMO101 UK No.331974 "Build a Wall" – Vertigo – 60591101974 "Tennessee Mashman" – Vertigo – 60590991976 "Always Laughing##" – Pinnacle – P84341977 "All Things Bright & Beautiful" – Power Exchange – PX2611977 "The Boxer" – Power Exchange – PX2521979 "Free Inside" – Acrobat – BAT101981 "Hey Mama" – TFC – TFC11983 "Give Us a Break" – BBC Records – RESL1341993 "Come on Joe" – Joe Brown Productions – UGCD0011997 "Old Chunk of Coal" – Demon – JBPROMO11999 "That's The Way The World Goes Round" – Round Tower Music – RTMS9902CD1999 "On A Day Like This" – Round Tower Music – RTMS9901CD2004 "I'll See You in My Dreams" – Track2006 "One Trick Pony" – Track2006 "Reuben" – Track2008 "Everybody's Famous" – Track2008 "You Were Everywhere" – Track
† – Credited to Joe Brown and the Bruvvers 1962 A Picture of You – Golden Guinea – GGL0146 UK No. 31962 A Picture of Joe Brown – Decca/Ace of Clubs – ACL11271963 Joe Brown – Live – Piccadilly Records – NPL8005 UK No. 141963 Joe Brown / Mark Wynter – Golden Guinea – GGL01791963 Here Comes Joe – Golden Guinea – GGL02311964 Charlie Girl (original cast recording) – CBS CBS26271965 What A Crazy World – Golden Guinea – GGL02721966 Bits of Joe Brown – Marble Arch Records – MAL6511968 Joe Brown – MCA Records – MUPS3471972 Brown's Home Brew – Bell Records – BELLS2081974 Together (B. H. Brew) – Vertigo Records – 63601141974 The Joe Brown Collection – Golden Hour – GH5831977 Joe Brown Live – Power Exchange – PXLS20021987 Here Comes Joe – Diamond – DLP5001988 Hits'N'Pieces – PRT Records – PYL40171990 A Golden Hour Of – Knight – KGHCD1211991 Onstage Jet – JETCD10021993 Come on Joe – Joe Brown Productions – CDUG0011993 The Joe Brown Story – Sequel – NED2351994 Live & In The Studio – See For Miles – C5MCD6121995 A Picture of You – Entertainment Today – 55075921997 56 & Taller Than You Think – Joe Brown Productions – FIEND7901999 On A Day Like This – Round Tower Music – RTMCD922001 A Showbusiness Lifetime – Joe Brown Productions – UGCD0032004 Jiggery Pokery – Joe Brown Productions – UGCD0052004 Hittin The High Spots – Track Records – TRA10512006 Down To Earth – Track Records – TRA10572008 More of the Truth – Track Records – TRA10602011 Joe Brown Live in Liverpool – Joe Brown Productions – UGDVD0022012 The Ukulele Album – Joe Brown Productions – UGCD0082016 The Best Of Joe Brown And The Bruvvers - One Day Music - DAY2CD299