American hybrids: junior brown and the guit-steel

Guitar Tricks Forum > Newsletter Articles > American hybrids: junior brown and the guit-steel

Guitar Tricks Admin

Full Access

Joined: 09/28/05

Posts: 3052



American Hybrids: Junior Brown and the Guit-Steel
By Hunter60


“The missing link between Ernest Tubb and Hendrix…”

Request Magazine



At first glance you might think that you are looking at the long lost son of Ernest Tubb. The suit, the tie and the clean and well placed Stetson. He has the look you would expect to be right at home under the neon lights of a beer soaked honky tonk somewhere deep in Texas on any given Saturday night. Junior Brown seems a man lost somewhere out of time; a slight miscue perhaps, at least until he plays. And then all doubt is removed.

Make no mistake about it; Junior Brown can play.

What he plays personifies the man. He crosses several lines easily; slipping back and forth between country, rock and roll, blues and rock-a-billy but he is clearly his most comfortable in good old-fashioned honky-tonk.

To fans of the Austin music scene, Junior is a staple with a growing national following. Even folks who are not fans of country or honky tonk can’t help but be mesmerized by the country tinged vocals and lightning hands of man named Junior.

Although he was born in Arizona, Junior was raised in the outskirts of Kirksville, Indiana. His father was a piano player and Junior jumped early on the keys. According to Brown, there was always music playing in his childhood home and he learned early on of his affection for country music. “There was always music of some kind in the house when I was growing up. My Dad was a piano player and so I started playing little melodies on the piano before I could talk.” He has cited many times that one of his earliest influences was Ernest Tubb. Aside from hearing his songs on the radio, Brown would later watch his television show and was sold on the Texas Troubadour.

While still a teenager, Browns family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Despite the fact that both his family and friends found country music to be an old fashioned and unpopular, Brown was not dissuaded. By this time, he had taken up the guitar and like the piano, found himself picking it up with relative ease. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and began playing in local honky tonk bars. In an interview with Will Van Overbeek of Request magazine, Brown said “As a kid who dropped out of high school and didn’t have any skills at all, I got this job playing six nights in honky tonks when I was seventeen years old. I made $140 a week and I thought I was rich”.

Brown spent the next few decades rolling along in the honk tonk circuit, building skills all along the way. His wanderlust led him though California, Colorado and Oklahoma prior to his finally settling into the city he calls his home now, Austin, Texas. In the 70’s, Brown was teaching guitar at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music. While teaching under the patronage of former Bob Will and His Texas Playboys lap steel player, Leon McAuliffe, Brown met the woman who would later become his wife, Ms. Tanya Rae. In an interview, when asked about Tanya, he jokingly said “Yeah, I kept her after class …” The two married in 1988 and Tanya has been a part of his band as a rhythm guitarist and back up vocalist ever since.

It was during this time that Brown created the hybrid guitar that has become synonymous with the man; the guit-steel. The guit-steel has a telecaster neck on top with a lap steel right below allowing the multi-talented Brown to switch between the two easily and quickly while on stage. If you listen to Brown with your eyes closed, it sounds as if you are listening to two, some times, three guitars players at the same time.

The idea for the guit-steel came to him in a dream. “I was playing both steel and guitar, switching back and forth a lot while I sang, and it was kinda awkward. But then I had this dream where they just kinda melted together. When I woke up, I thought “You know, this thing would work!” They made double-necked guitars and double necked steels, so why not one of each?”

He called on guitar maker Michael Stevens and by 1985, the guit-steel moved from dream to reality. Within the past few years, Brown and Stevens hooked up again and second guit-steel was created, a cherry red monster that Brown has named Big Red.

During his early years in Austin, Brown spent time playing with a variety of bands from Rank and File to Asleep at the Wheel and Austin’s favorite party band, Alvin Crow. Brown stayed away from the country flavors of the day; the Urban Cowboy crowd, the Outlaw sound and the Country Pop styles. Instead he chose to stay true to the sound that he had developed over his years over the road and in countless honky tonks and country and western bars. In an interview with Down Beat Magazine, Brown related that “… I didn’t change with the trends. I stuck with what I liked.”.

After settling down in Austin, Brown and his band, through strong word of mouth and packing a variety of houses in and around Austin, became the house band at the Continental Club. He presence became so strong, his audiences would include other enraptured musicians. Everyone from Chris Isaak, The Butthole Surfers, Neil Young, Jimmie Vaughn and Browns main inspiration, Ernest Tubb, have sat in the audience at the Continental Club. Ry Cooder was such a fan and he flew Brown to L.A. to record for the sound track of the film ‘Trespass’. Vintage rock and roll fan Nick Lowe took a cassette of Browns music back to England where he helped him secure a distribution deal with Demon records.

Browns debut album, 12 Shades of Brown, was a self-recorded and initially sold as a cassette at his shows. It was eventually picked up by Curb Records as a re-release after they had signed Brown and cut his first label release, Guit With It. Since 1993, Brown has had steady releases including Semi-Crazy in 1996, Long Walk Back in 1998, Mixed Bag in 2001, Down Home Chrome in 2004 and 2005’s Live At The Continental Club.

Brown summed up his style to Downbeat magazine, saying “I’ve got a foothold on what my style is … how far I can go without going too far, how simple I can be without being too simple, and keeping that balance … finding a place to grow with it without losing it … That’s the thing: Having a tiger is great, if he’s trained.”
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please contact us.

#1



American Hybrids: Junior Brown and the Guit-Steel
By Hunter60


“The missing link between Ernest Tubb and Hendrix…”

Request Magazine



At first glance you might think that you are looking at the long lost son of Ernest Tubb. The suit, the tie and the clean and well placed Stetson. He has the look you would expect to be right at home under the neon lights of a beer soaked honky tonk somewhere deep in Texas on any given Saturday night. Junior Brown seems a man lost somewhere out of time; a slight miscue perhaps, at least until he plays. And then all doubt is removed.

Make no mistake about it; Junior Brown can play.

What he plays personifies the man. He crosses several lines easily; slipping back and forth between country, rock and roll, blues and rock-a-billy but he is clearly his most comfortable in good old-fashioned honky-tonk.

To fans of the Austin music scene, Junior is a staple with a growing national following. Even folks who are not fans of country or honky tonk can’t help but be mesmerized by the country tinged vocals and lightning hands of man named Junior.

Although he was born in Arizona, Junior was raised in the outskirts of Kirksville, Indiana. His father was a piano player and Junior jumped early on the keys. According to Brown, there was always music playing in his childhood home and he learned early on of his affection for country music. “There was always music of some kind in the house when I was growing up. My Dad was a piano player and so I started playing little melodies on the piano before I could talk.” He has cited many times that one of his earliest influences was Ernest Tubb. Aside from hearing his songs on the radio, Brown would later watch his television show and was sold on the Texas Troubadour.

While still a teenager, Browns family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Despite the fact that both his family and friends found country music to be an old fashioned and unpopular, Brown was not dissuaded. By this time, he had taken up the guitar and like the piano, found himself picking it up with relative ease. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and began playing in local honky tonk bars. In an interview with Will Van Overbeek of Request magazine, Brown said “As a kid who dropped out of high school and didn’t have any skills at all, I got this job playing six nights in honky tonks when I was seventeen years old. I made $140 a week and I thought I was rich”.

Brown spent the next few decades rolling along in the honk tonk circuit, building skills all along the way. His wanderlust led him though California, Colorado and Oklahoma prior to his finally settling into the city he calls his home now, Austin, Texas. In the 70’s, Brown was teaching guitar at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music. While teaching under the patronage of former Bob Will and His Texas Playboys lap steel player, Leon McAuliffe, Brown met the woman who would later become his wife, Ms. Tanya Rae. In an interview, when asked about Tanya, he jokingly said “Yeah, I kept her after class …” The two married in 1988 and Tanya has been a part of his band as a rhythm guitarist and back up vocalist ever since.

It was during this time that Brown created the hybrid guitar that has become synonymous with the man; the guit-steel. The guit-steel has a telecaster neck on top with a lap steel right below allowing the multi-talented Brown to switch between the two easily and quickly while on stage. If you listen to Brown with your eyes closed, it sounds as if you are listening to two, some times, three guitars players at the same time.

The idea for the guit-steel came to him in a dream. “I was playing both steel and guitar, switching back and forth a lot while I sang, and it was kinda awkward. But then I had this dream where they just kinda melted together. When I woke up, I thought “You know, this thing would work!” They made double-necked guitars and double necked steels, so why not one of each?”

He called on guitar maker Michael Stevens and by 1985, the guit-steel moved from dream to reality. Within the past few years, Brown and Stevens hooked up again and second guit-steel was created, a cherry red monster that Brown has named Big Red.

During his early years in Austin, Brown spent time playing with a variety of bands from Rank and File to Asleep at the Wheel and Austin’s favorite party band, Alvin Crow. Brown stayed away from the country flavors of the day; the Urban Cowboy crowd, the Outlaw sound and the Country Pop styles. Instead he chose to stay true to the sound that he had developed over his years over the road and in countless honky tonks and country and western bars. In an interview with Down Beat Magazine, Brown related that “… I didn’t change with the trends. I stuck with what I liked.”.

After settling down in Austin, Brown and his band, through strong word of mouth and packing a variety of houses in and around Austin, became the house band at the Continental Club. He presence became so strong, his audiences would include other enraptured musicians. Everyone from Chris Isaak, The Butthole Surfers, Neil Young, Jimmie Vaughn and Browns main inspiration, Ernest Tubb, have sat in the audience at the Continental Club. Ry Cooder was such a fan and he flew Brown to L.A. to record for the sound track of the film ‘Trespass’. Vintage rock and roll fan Nick Lowe took a cassette of Browns music back to England where he helped him secure a distribution deal with Demon records.

Browns debut album, 12 Shades of Brown, was a self-recorded and initially sold as a cassette at his shows. It was eventually picked up by Curb Records as a re-release after they had signed Brown and cut his first label release, Guit With It. Since 1993, Brown has had steady releases including Semi-Crazy in 1996, Long Walk Back in 1998, Mixed Bag in 2001, Down Home Chrome in 2004 and 2005’s Live At The Continental Club.

Brown summed up his style to Downbeat magazine, saying “I’ve got a foothold on what my style is … how far I can go without going too far, how simple I can be without being too simple, and keeping that balance … finding a place to grow with it without losing it … That’s the thing: Having a tiger is great, if he’s trained.”
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please contact us.