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Junior Brown shows polish on "Down Chrome Set"

By TJ Simon, October 2004

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Brown is no stranger to humorous songs. "There's a lighthearted approach to songwriting that's really gotten lost in the last 30 or 40 years," he says. "People have gotten scared to cut up a little bit and be lighthearted. I'm not a humor writer. I write a lot of serious stuff, and some of my stuff is half-and-half. A song like 'Honky Tonkin' by Hank Williams isn't a comedy song, but it has lighthearted lyrics."

In that same vein is "Two Rons Don't Make a Right," a humorous mistaken identity love story. "That's a song I wrote in the style of one of my heroes, Ernest Tubb," Brown explains. "It's not a direct copy, but just a suggestion of that style. It's a funny story song I put away years ago. I didn't think it was any good, but I pulled it out and thought it was okay. I wrote a couple new verses for it."

Brown drew inspiration from his father when writing "Where Has All the Money Gone?" He says, "Peter, Paul and Mary had a song called 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?' My dad used to make fun of it by singing 'Where Has All the Money Gone?' It always stuck with me, so I wrote a song about a woman spending all of a guy's money."

In addition to his original numbers, Brown included two cover songs that he's always wanted to record. "The Bridge Washed Out" was originally a 1965 country hit for Warner Mack with a steel guitar solo by Lloyd Green. "I had a good time recreating the feel of the music," Brown says.

The other cover on the disc is the Jimi Hendrix classic, "Foxy Lady." The song had been a staple of Brown's live shows for years. "I don't consider myself a Hendrix imitator," he says. "I learned some of his approach, and I've been affected by that. I just do it as a novelty. People like it in the show, so I thought I'd throw it on the album."

Brown's diversity of musical interests is apparent throughout the record which shifts from the spoken-word balladry of "Jimmy Jones" to the jazzy guitar swing of "You Inspire Me."

This eclectic style has been both a creative strength and a business liability for Brown. Over-formatted and compartmentalized country radio has never really known what to do with Brown's music, which incorporates so many varied styles.

"Everybody wants to put you into some kind of compartment," Brown laments. "They describe me as somewhere between Ernest Tubb and Jimi Hendrix. I suppose that's a way to describe what I do, but it's a real over-simplification. I just have to do what I do and not be held back by thinking this kind of radio station won't play me if I do a certain style of tune. I'll always want to play different styles."

When asked about the state of country music today, Brown bristles, "What country music? That's my answer. Find me some country music, and then I'll comment about it. Where is it? If you can show me somebody doing country music, I'll tell you whether I like it or not. I like stations that play old country music, but I don't hear stations today playing anything country, unless you call Alan Jackson country. To me, it's what country music has become, and I guess some people call it country, but I don't."

Brown continues, "I don't want to name any names, but some of these people are good singers, and some are good writers, too. But they don't give anything to a song emotionally. When I hear a song, I want someone pouring out their emotions either by singing or playing. I want to hear someone gush. That's true in Spanish music. There's a lot of corazon or heart. They're not afraid to gush and be romantic. I think that generalizes what is missing today in music."

Brown cites Ricky Skaggs, Ray Price and Little Jimmy Dickens as musicians with whom he'd be proud to perform. "I like artists who have an emotion that's not buried under other things," he says. "If a guy's going to sing to me from his heart, I like it. I don't want to hear him singing about his pickup truck and breaking his voice like Garth Brooks. If a guy does have any heart today, it's buried by all this slick styling that people think music is supposed to sound like. I'd rather hear something really raw and sloppy that has an honest emotion and sentiment that comes through in the music."

Brown is currently touring the United States as part of a three-piece unit promoting the new disc. Even after all these years, he still gets a thrill out of playing live.

"I still like playing for fresh crowds," he says. "I enjoy getting people to come out and see me, and then I'm off to the next town and another crowd. It's not an easy life always running up and down the road on a bus, but we enjoy it."

Much of that thrill comes from the diversity of his fan base, which mimics the diversity of styles Brown performs. "I don't think there is any typical Junior Brown fan," he says. "They're all so different. They're from all walks of life, all age groups, and all racial groups. It's really interesting. I think it has to do with the mixture of music that I do. It brings in a mixture of people, and I like that."

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