A LIGHTER SHADE OF BROWN
Singer/guitarist Junior Brown doesn't like to be pigeonholed, musically or otherwise. "Whenever [people] think they've got me pegged, I pull something out that's a little different," explains Austin's latest musical discovery. "I like to keep it interesting."
"Interesting" hardly begins to describe Brown's spicy, Texas-tinged country masterpieces. On a good night, the 41-year-old producer, songwriter and guitar virtuoso manages to squeeze everything from flashy rockabilly riffs to Hawaiian guitar licks into his C&W repertoire. In fact, Brown, a onetime guitar instructor for the Hank Thompson School of Country Music, draws from so many musical traditions that it's all but impossible to keep track of them. Nonetheless, Brown insists that he's a simple cowboy singer at heart. "[Country music] is where my feeling comes from," he notes. "You have to have something that forms a common thread through all of your music. However much you experiment on top of that is fine, as long as it doesn't take you away from who you are and what you're trying to say. [Country music] is what I feel. It's what I love."
In spite of some stylistic detours, Guit With It, Brown's latest release on Nashville's Curb label, is dominated by his love of country music. "Guit-Steel Blues," for example, is a soulful southern scorcher in the Johnny Winter mode, but the eleven-minute number exudes a twangy backwoods mood all its own thanks to Brown's sleepy steel-guitar playing and lazy baritone drawl. Likewise, "Highway Patrol" would sound right at home on Johnny Cash's set list despite its revved-up boogie-woogie tone, and honky-tonkers such as "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" and "Party Lights" make it readily apparent where the guitarist's true loyalties lie.
Brown's influences are scattered, but he cites country legend Ernest Tubb as his primary muse. According to Brown, his admiration for the Opry legend dates back to his childhood. "The sound and the feeling--and the sincerity--that comes out of his music just gets me inside," he says. "It always has. He always stuck to his style all the way to the end, and he never compromised. You always knew where Ernest Tubb was coming from."
Brown also has drawn his fair share of comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, but he dismisses any similarities he may have with the Experienced One. "People sort of lay that Hendrix thing on me," he says, laughing. "But I don't really try to perpetuate that too much. He had some really good ideas, and he was probably the best rock guitar player I can think of. But I wouldn't say that he was one of my main influences. I think when critics compare me to Hendrix, they're thinking more about my wild, improvisational guitar approach and not so much that I'm imitating him."
If Brown's style doesn't resemble Hendrix's, neither does it recall the run-of-the-mill six-string pickers normally associated with country music. On the contrary, his playing is often more innovative and courageous than that exhibited by most rock musicians. The native Austinite has even invented his own guitar. Called a "guit-steel," Brown says the double-necked contraption--which looks like a cross between a conventional double-neck Gibson and an interstellar prop from The X-Files--enables him to switch between the pedal steel and electric with a minimum of fuss. "I needed to sing and play both the steel guitar and the electric guitar in the same song," he contends. "But it was always hard, because I had to unplug one so I could plug into the other. They were always banging into one another. The guit-steel makes playing much easier."
Brown's invention has seen a lot of mileage in recent months. The singer has just finished his first European tour and is currently in the midst of an extensive U.S. jaunt. He also has finished several tracks for a forthcoming album, which should hit record stores sometime in 1995. Brown promises that his new material will be every bit as unpredictable as his previous ventures. The record may even feature a surf medley that's become a staple at his live performances. "The surf sound is very close to a country guitar sound," he enthuses. "They both have that twang and that reverb."
Still, Brown promises that his focus will remain on rootsy country material. While that puts him at odds with many of today's country-pop performers, Brown is hesitant to judge his less-inspired colleagues. As he puts it: "Most of today's country music is just radio stuff, just like it's always been. Some of what's on the radio is good, and some of it's not so good. You always want to turn the clock back to something that was better, but I really wouldn't know where to turn the clock back to. There's been flaws all through history. I just think it's great that there's an opportunity for somebody like me to come along and make a little splash."
Junior Brown. 9 p.m. Tuesday, September 13, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $8.40 in advance/$10.50 day of show, 447-0095.
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