Junior Brown mixes guit-steel with humor

Music may be based on math but not for Junior Brown.

“That’s what my math teacher always told me,” Brown said. “He’d say, ‘What’s the matter with you, bonehead? You can play music but you can’t do math?’ ”

Music comes much easier to Brown, a country guitarist compared to Jimi Hendrix by Hendrix’s drummer Mitch Mitchell. Brown, whose father also was a musician, said he could play piano before he could speak.

“I didn’t learn how to tell time for a long time,” Brown said. “They never diagnosed it as dyslexia but I think it was a mild dyslexia. I always had trouble with math. But certain things I took to, like playing piano before I could talk. It was no problem there.

“It comes from a different place. When I memorize numbers, I don’t memorize the numbers, I memorize the sound of them in my ears. It’s different reality for me.”

Brown, whose telephone voice is as low and his singing voice, often has humorous lyrics in his songs, which always feature a “wild” guitar tone.

“(Mitchell) said Hendrix had a wild sound, but not uncontrolled wildness,” Brown told Tahoe Onstage. “He knew how to tame the wildness and control it and use it in a calculated way, and (Mitchell) was comparing my playing to that. I was very flattered.”

Brown’s onstage instrument alone is wild. The “guit-steel” has two necks for a guitar and steel guitar. He designed the hybrid in 1980 on order to stop having to plug into to and change instruments during performances. He said he was inspired by Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen.

“He had five necks on the thing,” Brown said. “I don’t know if he could ever even reach that bottom one. In his case, I think it was more of a visual gimmick than a useful tool. But it was a good gimmick. I thought if a guy can get five necks up there, I can do two. That gave me the confidence I could do it.”

Co-designer Michael Stevens sells the Junior Brown guit-steels for $14,500. Surprisingly, Brown, who travels with two guit-steels, checks his instruments with regular luggage.

“Bob Wills’ great guitar player Eldon Shamblin, he had one of the first, if not the first Fender Stratocasters; Leo Fender had given it to him,” Brown said. “It was an early demonstrator. He just had a regular guitar case and would just check it in baggage. I asked, why would you do that because at that time a lot of people were breaking guitars. Of course the airlines don’t do that as much now. He said, ‘If I have to worry about it, then I’m just not going to travel.’ He wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it. That’s kind of how I look at it. If I have to worry about it, then I’ll do something different.”

Brown recently released an EP, “Volume Ten,” which includes the humorous country radio single “Hang Up and Drive.”

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Picture of Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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