Junior Brown has been around since the neo-traditional days, and his early 90's hit "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" was one of the last bastions of holding on to country sounds before pop and rock completely took over. Despite that, and his cult following for decades thanks to his quirky humor in songs and blistering guitar playing, I had never seen him live until his appearance at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, Kentucky on Thursday (9/24).
Big mistake on my part.
|Junior Brown going to town on the steel portion|
of his guit-steel at Southgate House.
c. 2015 K.F. Raizor
Brown's performance reminded me of seeing the legendary punk band the Ramones (only countrier, of course): from the moment he walked on stage until he left, Brown was playing music, going from one song to the next as if the management told him he only had 90 minutes to be onstage and he was going to take advantage of every second. (When I saw the Ramones, they did 22 songs in one hour. That's time management!)
Running through highlights from his career, Brown barely stopped to say "hi" to the crowd. He didn't even stop actually playing when he introduced his wife, rhythm guitar player Tanya Rae Brown, who sang Norma Jean's hit "I Wouldn't Buy a Used Car From Him."
Aside from his marvelous baritone (which he showed off by dropping into a bass range that would make Richard Sterban sweat bullets) and lyrics that tickle your funny bone and country soul (such as the great "Phantom of the Opry," with its reference to Scooby Doo Where Are You! in the line "I said, 'if it wasn't for those meddling kids and their dogs'"), the primary reason to go see this man is his guitar playing. It's indescribable. While the albums and the You Tube videos might give you some indication of just how good Brown is, standing there watching him effortlessly move from guitar to steel and back again, throwing in a Jimi Hendrix lick or two along the way, is stunning. Brown played a medley of "surf-rock" classics (including "Walk, Don't Run" and "Secret Agent Man," the latter of which the audience happily sang for him), "Yakety Axe," and "Sugarfoot Rag" between his songs such as "My Wife Thinks You're Dead," "Highway Patrol," "The Better Half," and "Broke Down South of Dallas." He began his 20-minute long encore by singing the Connie Smith hit "Cincinnati, Ohio" in honor of the city right across the river from Newport.
The lyrics kept people smiling ("I've gotta get up early every morning just to say goodnight to you") and the guitar work kept them amazed. After the show Brown signed autographs and posed for pictures, crowning the night with the polite Texas gentleman element.
Thanks for stopping by, Junior. I'll definitely be seeing you again.