Junior Brown is a paradox: a songwriter with a keen sense of the wit and economy of classic country, but who nevertheless burst on the scene decades ago with some unorthodox ideas and a fierce playing style that ran the gamut from Buck Owens to Jimi Hendrix.
Almost 30 years on, all of those elements have survived intact — as has Brown's unique style. His earliest songs still stand strong, even side-by-side with his 2018 release, Deep in the Heart of Me. For that, and for his unerring ear in capturing the magic of classic honky-tonk material, he's a perfect fit with Dale Watson's Ameripolitan Music Awards — four days celebrating honky tonk, Western swing, and rockabilly in all their contemporary permutations. Brown and Watson will kick things off on Friday night at the newly rejuvenated Hernando's Hide-A-Way.
I recently had a chat with Brown, in which he waxed philosophical on just what makes good country music good, and how he walks the line between classic sounds and being true to himself.
- George Brainard
- Junior Brown
Memphis Flyer: I expect you'll be a great fit with the ambiance of Hernando's Hide-A-Way. There aren't a lot of clubs left on the circuit anymore that capture that countrypolitan vibe so well.
Junior Brown: We're just glad we can play anywhere because live music is really not what it used to be. Most people are getting their entertainment on computers and so forth now, instead of going out. There's not much dancing anymore in dance clubs. But we're just very grateful that we still have an audience that comes out and there's still an interest among young people. We're always getting new fans. A lot of 'em are people who will come up and say, "My father or my grandparents loved your music, and that's why I'm here." So it goes down through the generations.
This won't be your first Ameripolitan appearance, will it?
We played the ceremony when I received an award a few years back. And then I was there to help present an award to Lloyd Green, a steel guitar hero of mine. So I've been in contact with Dale over the years. He's been very gracious about including me in some of these things.
Dale's a good songwriter. There's a real talent to that, separate from the singing and the playing, that a lot of artists just can't get ahold of. It's a whole different side of music, the writing. The beauty of a good traditional country song is keeping humble, keeping it simple, and keeping it honest. Simplicity is not easy.
I don't think there should be anything hip about country music. Don't get me wrong: I think Gram Parsons was great, but I think the hippies really screwed country music up. And hey, I'm an old hippie myself, so I'm as guilty as anybody else. I've recorded a Jimi Hendrix song, for crying out loud. But although I'm a fan of the Flying Burrito Brothers, they turned country into something cool. And country's supposed to be square. The coolness and the hipness come from appreciating it for its integrity, its humility. Once you try and hipify that, you've cheapened it. I think that's a tightrope that Ricky Skaggs has always walked, and he's come out on the right side of it.
Yet a lot of people think of you as that guy who can go from classic country to playing a Hendrix solo.
Yeah, or surfer music. Yeah, I still play the same mix as when I started. I do novelty songs. I do a song in Spanish once in a while. So I'm not a purist. And I'm not a country boy, per se. My dad was a college professor! But when I sing a country song, I put everything I've got into it. And I'm very conscious to try not to cheapen it. I'm very proud of my songs. They've stood the test of time.
The material you did 25 years ago still rings true.
Yeah! See, that's what I like about country music. Once you find something good, it's good forever.
The Ameripolitan Music Awards start Friday, February 21st, with multiple acts at various venues, culminating with the ceremony at the Guest House at Graceland on Monday, February 24th. Visit ameripolitan.com for details.