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For Junior Brown, 1996 is very very good to him

By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 1996

If metal superstars Metallica had their way, believe it or not, opening shows for them would be Junior Brown.

Ditto for Tom Petty and those Texas long beards ZZ Top.

In the case of ZZ Top, Brown did open. For the others, it was only a wish because the man often considered the second coming of Ernest Tubb with some modern guitar swishes amidst Texas Swing, blues and surf sounds and an utterly unique type of guitar just couldn't fit in the gigs.

Now, this may all sound strange for a guy who's real country.

And you might even think Brown is joking since that is a characteristic often found in his songs and videos.

Brown has a ready explanation from a hotel in Birmingham, Ala., where he is to open in a few hours for ZZ Top. "Our audience is really widespread," he says. "We play from every age group and a lot of the different demographic groups - rock country, blues, bluegrass. A lot of the audiences like us."

As for opening (almost) for the likes of Metallica, Black Crowes and REM, Brown has no clue of how that almost happened. "All these people I'm not familiar with," says Brown, 44. "They're apparently big fans of mine. I'm not part of that world, and I don't list to that kind of music. It's different than where I'm coming from, I would think. I'm saying that out of ignorance."

"I'm more well known than I was because of the last year has been a very good year for getting me out into the public eye,"says Brown, who has been touring behind his fourth release, "Semi Crazy," another winner.

Winning the best video for "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" at the Country Music Association awards in October was the Indiana native's first national award. Brown received nominations for a Grammy and from the Academy of Country Music, but went home empty handed.

He seemed genuinely surprised at the CMA award.

The video is a humorous black-and-white shoot with his wife and band member, Tanya Rae, as one of the characters giving Junior some hell.

"I was real surprised," Brown says. "I was so surprised that I couldn't really talk because I wasn't prepared. I had no speech prepared, so I was completely taken by surprise. I thought since I was up against all the winning songs of the evening and the winning artists, I was not going to win."

"I had lost the Grammy, and I had lost the Academy of Country Music (award), and I was happy to be nominated," he says of the CMA. "I just didn't think I would win. That's all."

He gained the quick hit of publicity and increased record sales that go hand in hand with winning an award.

Brown says another key part was that it feels "like it's more acceptance. Okay, it's safe to like Junior Brown now. He's mainstream, up to a certain point. They probably think I'm still an oddball in a certain kind of way. Oddball in musical kind of style and visually to a certain extent."

That is something that Brown is quick to put to rest. "I always try to have an air of legitimacy to it, not some cockeyed stunt out of left field. It's not a stunt. It's not a novelty either."

Some may think it is given Brown's discs. The high school dropout is quite clearly a wordsmith, able to turn a phrase time and again.

That is most evident on "Venom Wearin' Denim" about a woman no guy would want to encounter. The short song includes the line "When she strikes the deadly bite/there's no antidote" and takes off from there with "hissing," "forked tongue" and "coils" all mentioned.

In that respect, it is a first cousin to "Holding Pattern" from a previous disc, "Guit With It," with lots of airline references smartly strung together.

"It's kind of a catchy, humorous thing," Brown says of "Venom."

Brown explains why he prefers the humorous songs. "It's the style of tunes that I can write better than the serious, sappy love ballads. I don't think they're any less legitimate because they're more lighthearted."

As to why he likes the style more, Brown was uncertain. "I don't know why. Boredom I guess. I get bored, and I want to come up with something that will tickle you when you hear a line rather than make you weep. That doesn't satisfy my boredom."

Perhaps getting more serious, Brown says, "It's a place where I can be more unique instead of writing something about somebody's heart or something. If I'm writing a song about someone's heart and my heart intermingled, it's hard to come up with a uniqueness that's Junior Brown's style. That's just what I do best."

As evident of the wordplay, the lead-off "Gotta Get up Every Morning," includes the chorus of the title coupled with "just to say good night to you."

Brown, of course, is not all fun and games.

"I write some of them serious," he says. "I think it's important to be serious and legitimize yourself and not be a comedy act. I have a real short fuse for what I consider sappy stuff. ("So Close Yet So Far Away" from "Guit") is the ultimate sappy love song, but to me there are other things that bother me in music that are much more sappy than that. It's all your idea of what sappy is. I refuse to be sappy writer. I really hate that melodramatic (style)."

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