Junior Brown

When I've tried to turn people on to Junior Brown, I've settled on this description: imagine Jimi Hendrix playing old traditional country. Of course there's more to it, from the instrument he invented himself to his unique baritone voice, to the touches of surf, jazz, rock(abilly), and even Hawaiian slide that flavor his music. Junior is one-of-a-kind, and should not be dismissed by those who have a predisposition to not liking much country music. From the bio on his site: "A lot of people tell me they don't like country music, but they like what I am doing. I hear that line more than anything else." As a side note my wife is often stunned at my knowledge of old country (from my dad). She can't fathom how after decades of not hearing some of those songs I'm still able to sing along to each and every one, like on the Time-Life country oldies collection commercial. It's because a lot of them just had real feeling, and real playing and songwriting which explored the language of country music rather than relying on the same gimmicky phrasings of today. No other modern artist has taken country music further than Junior Brown.

The instrument he invented (after dreaming about it) is called a guit-steel, and has a regular guitar neck on top and a slide guitar built in below that, and when playing live he switches seemlessly between the two. He plays super-fast, and it's always highly inventive and slightly improvised and it's truly a thrill to watch and listen to him magically finger pick his way up a guitar neck (often with this characteristic chinka-chinka sound) and pull out his slide to finish off a run, or lay down some jazz chords, or play a string by de-tuning and tuning it back and forth, always somehow tuning it right back to the note it needs to end on (see "Brokedown South of Dallas" at 1:05, 1:40, and especially 2:28). His backing band (often in suits) is a stand-up bass, a drummer who often has little more than a single snare drum and cymbal (and usually brushes), and an acoustic rhythm guitar - and together they lay down the rhythmic tracks for Junior's enjoyable explorations of melody. I've seen an old guy and a young guy on bass, an old-timer named Pete playing drums (and one night at Floore's outside stage when Pete couldn't play, opener and Texas legend Johnny Bush sat in), and that's Junior's lovely wife Tanya Rae strumming the acoustic and smiling at him much of the time (with the rest of the crowd), though they have had a different guy strumming lately.

Junior is definitely in my list of top guitarists of all time. He plays tight licks but has a loose style. He doesn't take himself too seriously, writes great, often funny lyrics, and his concerts are some of the most entertaining I've ever seen - these pics are mine from the first Junior show I saw ('96) at Floore's Country Store in Helotes, just outside San Antonio, where Willie once played weekly shows. One NYE in the late 90's me and two guys drove a few hours away to see Junior play at the Cabaret in Bandera, TX (best NYE ever). It was the most energetic and electrifying of the half-dozen or so shows of his I've seen. I think. I was a little out of it, but I do remember that Junior was, too, his (slightly slurry) New Years countdown drawl of "uh, what time is it? Aw, hell... 3, 2, 1 Happy New Years!", and he launched into Auld Lang Syne, and he brilliantly peppered that song into others for the rest of the night. I cannot stress the fact enough that you have got to see him for yourself - if you're on the US West Coast, luckily he'll be coming your way this month.

Junior was born in Arizona, spent time growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, but now calls Austin his hometown. After working bars and clubs in obscurity from the late sixties on and then teaching some guitar in Oklahoma, he moved to Austin in the late 80's and became the house act at the storied Continental Club. His first album was released in '93, and Junior has steadily gained a growing legion of diverse fans. The following show was a homecoming for Junior at a small dinner-type theater, an intimate venue which didn't hold a lot of people, at least not on this night: "Better not try hecklin', 'cause we got you outnumbered," he jokes. "But we're gonna try and make a good time out of this." And dagnabbit that's just what he does. Don't miss an epic "I Hung It Up".

Check Insound for some great prices on Junior Brown albums. "Semi-Crazy" and the newest, "Live At the Continental Club", are highly recommended, the latter pulled from two smoking shows at his old stomping grounds in Austin.


Anonymous said...

I don't like country, but I like what Junior Brown is doing ;-)

Anonymous said...

i always wanted to tell you, that i really appreciate and like your work here. every time i visit yr blog, there`s another great tune (or even more than one... let me thank you for the great housemartins, smiths, joy division and clash-stuff and for all the artists i didn`t know before).
keep up the good work.

funeralpudding said...

Thanks, but leave a name, otherwise I think it's just Brian P or Chris C. But thanks.

JD from hoeno.blogspot.com said...

You sure picked a great artist to spotlight. I always love reading about Junior, thanks. And, I am a fan of many country players. I only found out about Junior because I'm an Ernest Tubb fan. ''My baby don't dance to nothing but Ernest Tubb.''

Anonymous said...

Hell yes! Im a long time "classic country" fan. Im also a Marine Corps vet that did 2 tours in Iraq. I went to a concert of his the other night and about half way through I felt like all the years the Corps took off my life where just given back to me by the mans muzac. His music did more than all of Uncle Sam's drugs or money could ever do. Thank you~

Corporal of Marines

James said...

Thanks for the set list, man! I was so pumped to see that someone recorded a live show! I listened to it all the way through and, hot damn, it's good!! Gotta love the artists who are keeping this kind of music alive.