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Junior Brown takes the long road

By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 1998

Junior Brown may not be all over the airwaves, but he sure seems to be ubiquitous on the boob tube.

Gap ads. Lipton Tea ads.

And soon a character on "The X-Files." That despite never being a regular of the popular show.

But don't think though the man with the hat and big droopy eyes is eschewing his musical career for the glitz and glamor of Tinseltown.

Not with a brand new disc "Long Walk Back" just out.

The 11 songs offer much variety ranging from the usual honky tonk/Ernest Tubb stylings for which Brown probably is best known ("Long Walk Back to San Antone") to an Elvis cover from his movie days ("Rock-A-Hula Baby") to a Fifties style rave-up, Connie Francis' ("(I'm Just) Looking For Love") to straight-ahead steely guitar-based blues ("Stupid Blues") to an instrumental ("Peelin' Taters").

Of course, the centerpiece is Brown's guitar playing with his unique guit-steel, a guitar contraption Brown says came to him in his dreams years ago. The instrument combines a regular six-string guitar on one fret with a steel on another.

Brown, who has been assigned novelty status to some extent, is well aware of the musical diversity.

"I think I purposefully put in a little bit more variety into the mix of songs," says Brown in an interview from Tulsa. "There's a lot of different kinds of stuff on this album."

That partly stemmed from the label's interest in Brown demonstrating his guitar playing. "We went in and made it a little more guitar (oriented)," says Brown, without complaining. "That's one of the reasons why 'Stupid Blues' is on there, a big guitar jam."

"A lot of times their input is important," Brown says of record companies. "You're a guitar player, and you need to have music that shows your guitar. That's one of the reasons I've always wanted to do a live album. I think for sure, our next album is going to be live. The excitement that a live show is always a challenge to have on tape."

Brown says he shifted gears a bit "because I don't like to get stuck in one particular thing. There are a lot of different kinds of music that I've played in my life. I sort of use previous influences and experiences that I have had, like a seasoning, into the music I write."

"The basic meal is honky tonk, but there are a lot of other things that go into that, a lot of other kinds of styles that I've played over the years. I like to show that - the mix, the different things that I do."

Growing up in Indiana, Brown was influenced musically by his parents, acquiring an interest in different styles. While in his teens, he was already into music professionally. He moved around, picking up musical styles wherever he lived.

Brown eventually taught guitar at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music under steel guitar legend Leon McAuliffe, a former Texas Playboy.

While there he met "lovely Miss Tanya Rae," a secretary. She didn't stay "miss" for too long as Brown married her 10 years ago and plays rhythm and sings back-up with Brown.

Brown regrouped to Austin where his band became the house band at the Continental Club. World-of-mouth later led to a record deal with a 1993 debut of "12 Shades of Brown" and its tribute to Brown's hereo Ernest Tubb ("My Baby Don't Dance to Nothing but Ernest Tubb"). He also won much acclaim with "Guit With It," also out in 1993, and "Semi-Crazy" from 1996. Sandwiched between the latter was the "Junior High" EP, mainly containing re-recorded songs, although it won a 1996 Grammy nomination for best country album.

The new album was delayed several times for reasons unknown to Brown.

As for its diversity, "Read 'Em and Weep," for example is an acoustically-based ballad with Brown displaying lots of vocal twang.

"This new album has examples of writing that I haven't done before," Brown says. "'Read 'Em ' is a little different style for me. It shows off that little different sound...I think it's good."

"Just the whole idea of 'Read 'Em And Weep' - lost the card game, and now I read the letters. One idea led to another as far as the word play, which is the same technique as writing on a funny song. You can do that with a tearjerker."

And he then takes off superfast with the Elvis cover from "Blue Hawaii" where saxes - used for the first time - and guitar power the song.

"That's one that I've always enjoyed doing," says Brown. "Probably the only Elvis Presley song I've ever done, but it's one that no one else has ever touched. The (song) fits because of the Hawaiian-style guitar. A rock and roll song with a Hawaiian steel guitar. It's just perfect for me."

Brown spent time in his distant past in Hawaii, where he soaked up the island's music.

"Peelin' Taters," the instrumental, wasn't even really a song until it came time to recording.

"It was a technique for that style of playing (fast, staccato notes) just sort of as a little exercise, a fun thing I made up," Brown says. "I pulled it out in the studio and said 'hey do you want to try this?' and magic happened. It became one of the moments that the tape was rolling, and we captured it. That had never really been a song until that moment. It was something I had been playing around."

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