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Junior Brown shows polish on "Down Chrome Set"

By TJ Simon, October 2004

There's a show on the Discovery Channel called "Monster Garage" where creative grease monkeys take ordinary cars and transform them into extraordinary machines. If there was ever a Monster Garage for guitars, Junior Brown's famous instrument, the guit-steel, could be featured on the premier episode.

As legend has it, Brown conceived of the double-necked instrument that fuses together a 6-string guitar with a steel guitar during a dream nearly 20 years ago.

"I guess you could call it a dream," Brown explains via phone en route to a gig in San Francisco. "I was half asleep and had the kind of vision you have before you wake up, and you can still remember your dream. In it, I looked down and realized I was playing a double-neck that had the two instruments I enjoy playing - steel and guitar."

After making some inquiries with various custom guitar monster garages, Brown found the right craftsman in his own backyard of Austin, Texas.

"It all fell into place," he says. "I walked into Michael Stevens' shop in Austin and knew immediately he was the guy to do it. He's done a 6-string and a 12-string combination and a 6-string and a bass combination. He was building these weird things for other people, so I knew he was the right guy."

Today, Brown owns three of the instruments and has another on the way. His guit-steels join him on stage nightly for one of the most blistering live shows in country.

They are also prominently featured on Brown's studio albums, including the new release, "Down Home Chrome."

While the new record is not a radical departure in style, it does represent a business departure for Brown as it is his first album for Telarc.

Brown, now 52, parted ways with Curb Records, his recording home for 6 albums spanning a decade.

This switch finds Brown leaving a label containing an impressive country stable including The Judds, Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes.

Cleveland-based Telarc, on the other hand, is better known for its blues artists such as Pinetop Perkins, Charlie Musselwhite and Junior Wells. "I think they're just going to take the variety of musical interests that I have - blues being one of them," Brown says.

Although Brown is known primarily as a country artist, as reflected by his Grammy nominations and Country Music Association awards, the reality is that he is an eclectic artist whose music comfortably cross genres without betraying his signature style.

Even though Brown has been playing professionally since the 1960s, it took him several years to launch a career as a solo artist. "I realized that it was important to write my own songs, and I got serious about that in the early 1980s," he says. "I never had my style down until I started writing."

"Usually, when you're writing country songs, they're more lyrically-oriented, so you're going to get a hook line in your head first, like 'My Wife Thinks You're Dead' - something catchy that will usually become the title," Brown explains. "Then the music and the lyrics sort of come together. Your imagination starts running with both at the same time. The other way to go about it is to have a jam around an instrumental idea, and you write lyrics around that."

Brown's style encompasses multiple genres including classic country, rock, surf, Hawaiian, jazz and blues. But rather than seeming unfocused, his albums are always tied together by the recognizable sound of the guit-steel.

"The stuff I like the most is playing the steel guitar," Brown says. "But that's probably what the public likes least about me. They are more into the six-string guitar and the fireworks on that instrument. Others like the songwriting. For me, it's really about the whole package. I really like all of it."

"Down Home Chrome" is more of the stuff that Junior Brown fans have come to expect over the past decade.

The label shift to Telarc has done little to alter the substance of Brown's music - fun songs coupled with fiery guitar work. Interestingly, the dozen tracks (10 originals and 2 covers) on the new release have been floating around Brown's head for a while.

"I had a few songs in my scrap heap that I had written years ago," he says modestly, "I re-wrote a verse here, a verse there. Then there were some more recent things I'd written that I never had a chance to record. I didn't write anything specifically for the album, but I did revamp a lot of songs that I had previously written, but never released."

The album's opening track is the Beach Boys-inspired hot-rod number, "Little Rivi-Airhead." It's also one of the four songs Telarc is pushing for radio play.

"That's kind of a funny song I wrote years ago, and my wife hated it," Brown says. "I threw it in the closet and never went back to it. I thought that some of these stupid lyrics are pretty good. Sometimes the hit off of the album will be the stupidest one, so I won't be afraid to be stupid. It's purposely silly."

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