Brown pays a few odes to the past on "Semi Crazy." The title, written with his former bus driver Ron Avis, is a truck driving song with singer Red Simpson doing a duet. The song celebrates the blue collar truck driving life.
"This is what I am," Brown says of the song's bent. "This is what I do. This is how I feel, and I'm proud of it. It's that part of music that deal with working people. There's more pride than 'I'm drunk, and I don't care.'"
The blue collar theme continues with "Joe the Singing Janitor." "It's about pride," Brown says. "That's exactly it. It's a light-hearted (song), but there's a serious message behind it. It's like 'Highway Patrol' (off "Guit With It"). It's not really light-hearted. Hey, give me a break. I do a job, and it's not easy."
The disc includes the "Surf Medley," 7:08 minutes worth of "Pipeline," "Walk Don't Run" and "Secret Agent Man."
"It worked well on the live shows," Brown says. "It's a medley of three songs I've done since I started playing in the clubs in '66. We had the battle of the bands, and those were three songs out of that era that I've played since then and always liked. That sound is sort of coming back. People like to hear that." The song was recorded almost entirely live.
"Hong Kong Blues" was a Hoagie Carmichael song Brown heard growing up. His father bought some 78s at the local Goodwill. "There was just this one day that he saw them for a penny apiece," Brown says. "He had this huge pile of 78s, and he just loved them.
One of them was "River Boat Shuffle" by Carmichael. The flip side was "Hong Kong Blues."
Brown first got into music through his family. His father was a roving music teacher. He left home at 17, hitting the road to play music ever since except for some construction work. At one point, he lived in New Mexico and later Hawaii, which influenced him musically.
Brown hooked up with Tanya Rae while he taught guitar under Bob Wills' steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music, part of Rogers State College in Oklahoma. "She was working as a secretary," Brown says. "She always liked country music. She liked what I liked. I didn't have to educate her as far as what was good. She knew. I just taught her how to play that style, and she picked right up on it. She knew it was the best sound. She had a pretty disposition on to be able to do it."
Tanya Rae plays acoustic guitar on stage and contributes some backing vocals.
Brown acknowledges that playing and living together isn't always easy. "We made it work. It presents challenges. Any working married couple will tell you that. We work it out and make it function."
About eight years ago, Brown settled in Austin, Texas, still his home. "I tried to get signed," he says. "I talked to several labels. Nobody would really sign me except Curb. There wasn't a category to market me in, so we made one. That's basically what happened."
Brown gained some attention from his regular weekend gigs at the Continental Club in Austin. Brown's agent, Bobby Cudd knew the head of artists & repertoire at Curb and got him to see Brown live.
Although it took awhile, Brown says he was pleased with the reception in Austin. "I was starting to get enthused even back then because of the Continental people started showing up so much, and it started becoming the thing to come see me."
"I've never needed much encouragement," he says with a laugh. "I just wanted to live a little."
"I knew label or no label, it was starting to catch on," he says. Brown played around Texas.
One of the most interesting aspects of Brown was his trademark musical instrument. He played a guitar known as the guit steel. It's part pedal and part regular guitar with separate sets of strings.
He had someone make him up the guitar after he grew tired of switching between the two types of guitar within the same song.
His music may be unusual. His guitar is unusual to say the least. His singing may be different, and so was his recording career.
Brown first got his recording career rolling in England. "12 Shades of Brown" was first released in England after a tape fell into the possession of British popmeister Nick Lowe. The music soon found its way to Elvis Costello, whose Demon Records released it in 1990.
The release gained Brown an opening in the States. His breakthrough came at a gig at the South By Southwest musical extravaganza held annually in Austin.
Curb ended up releasing two separate discs of Brown, "12 Shades" and "Guit With It" in 1993. The latter contains such favorites as "Highway Patrol," an ode to police, "My Wife..." and the lightning fast "Sugarfoot Rag," with the closing famous Hendrix guitar riff from "The Wind Cries Mary."