Armed with a witty sense of songcraft and high-octane guitar skills that encompass Western swing, honky-tonk, rock and roll, blues and more, Junior Brown has spent the past decade crafting entertaining records that have attracted a broad audience by eluding any and all of the aforementioned categories.
Born in 1952 in Cottonwood, Arizona, Brown showed a musical affinity at an early age, banging out little melodies on the family piano before he could even talk. His parents hoped he might become a classical musician, but he had other plans. He discovered a guitar in his grandparents’ attic at age seven, and spent the next several years woodshedding with records by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Kinks and other high-profile rock bands of the mid-‘60s. But Junior, whose father taught at a liberal arts college, was also able to tap into what was playing on campuses during that same period – Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and other country blues artists whose collective reemergence had fueled the folk movement of the early ‘60s. Armed with this broad spectrum of source material, he developed some formidable guitar chops by the end of his teen years.
Brown’s passion for country music had intensified by the early ‘70s. “I liked what Merle Haggard was doing at that time,” he recalls. “I liked Ray Price. I loved Ernest Tubb, because I’d watched him on TV as a kid back in the mid-‘60s.” With these and other prominent country figures as his inspiration, Brown spent the entire decade further sharpening his guitar skills in tiny little country bars along the Southwest border. “I played more nights in honky-tonks during the ‘70s than most people will in a lifetime,” he professes. “All of the ‘70s were spent in hardcore, six-nights-a-week house-band stuff. I did ten years of that, night after night, four sets a night. I mean, after that, you gotta get good. You have to, just to keep from going nuts.”
Although he maintained his sanity, the heyday of country had waned by the early ‘80s, and the gigs were drying up. “But then this dim little light bulb started flickering over my head,” Brown recalls. From strictly a technical standpoint, he knew he could play anything by anyone, but he had yet to explore his potential as a songwriter. “I realized that no one was going to walk into a club and discover me. I had to do something and become something for them to discover. So I started hanging out with some songwriters that I’d played some gigs with. I figured, ‘Well, if I write, it will make me more of an individual. I’ll be a singer-songwriter, and I won’t be thought of as just a guy who does covers.’”
With his songwriting coming together by the mid ‘80s, Brown upgraded his gear in a way that no guitarist had ever done before. Struggling though each gig with the awkward back-and-forth switch between the six-string guitar and its steel counterpart, he had a dream one night about the two instruments mysteriously melting into one. He took the idea to guitar maker Michael Stevens, and the result was Brown’s now-famous “guit-steel,” a double-necked guitar combining the standard instrument with the steel.
In the early ‘90s, Brown and his band – including his wife, Tanya Rae, whom he’d married in 1988 and enlisted into his band as rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist – relocated to the fertile Austin, Texas, music scene and landed a gig as the house band at the city’s Continental Club. His tight and entertaining combination of songwriting and instrumental skills led to a record deal with Curb that began with 12 Shades of Brown in 1993, followed by a string of critically praised albums and EPs throughout the remainder of the decade.
Brown joins the Telarc label in the summer of 2004 with the August 24 release of Down Home Chrome. Produced by Brown, the 12-song set maintains the same eclectic and highly entertaining approach that he has taken throughout his career. “I don't have any boundaries,” he says. “The only boundaries are defined by what I like to do. The bulk of the album is what I guess you would call traditional country. But there are so many little things that I throw in here and there that you can't really call the album a country album."
Live On Stage:
Junior Brown plays an instrument he calls "guit-steel" - a double-neck guitar that combines standard six string with a steel guitar - it looks funky, but makes for some interesting music. Check out his funky contraption, here's Junior with "My Wife Thinks Your Dead"....
Not much of a singer, but he can sure play that thing pretty damn well. Here's some show to check out (via Dimeadozen)....
Junior Brown - 2007-05-09 - Mystic Theatre - Petaluma, CA
Junior Brown - 2004-08-08 - Rams Head Tavern - Annapolis, MD
Junior Brown - 1995-10-28 - Laurel Theater - Knoxville, TN
Can only seem to find one from Junior, here he is with "Highway Patrol"....
For more on Junior Brown head on over to his official website.