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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the November 27, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Son of a Preacher Man
Few folk songwriters are as highly regarded among other
folk songwriters as is Greg Brown. Yet Brown, right, is hardly a household
name to the rest of the world. It has taken Brown many years of touring
and a few lucky breaks, including a Grammy nomination for his 1996
album "Slant 6 Mind" and a recent performance on National
Public Radio’s "All Things Considered," to put his name out
there in the world. Since big commercial radio stations for the most
part don’t play Brown’s music, he has pockets of fans around the U.S.,
Canada, and Europe.
Brown, who lives in Iowa when he is not on the road, makes a stop
in Hightstown Saturday, November 30, for an Outta Sights and Sounds
The son of an electric guitar playing mother and a Pentecostal preaching
father, Brown was raised listening to gospel in rural Iowa. He began
singing at age 18, and won a contest to play an opening set for singer
Eric Andersen in Iowa City. Andersen was sufficiently impressed to
encourage Brown to move east to New York City.
Brown moved to New York to run hootenannies (now known as "open
mike nights") at Gerde’s Folk City, a center for folk and acoustic
blues musicians in the 1960s, 70s, and early 1980s. He later moved
to Los Angeles and Las Vegas but then moved back to Iowa. There he
started Red House Records, and began working on NPR’s "A Prairie
Home Companion" with Garrison Keillor. He began to tour nationally,
taking his eclectic mix of blues, gospel, country, rock, and jazz
to audiences far from his home in southeastern Iowa.
Just how highly regarded is Brown by his peers? "Going
Driftless," a recent Red House Records tribute album — royalties
from which benefit the Breast Cancer Fund — offers proof. Among
those singing Greg Brown songs are Lucinda Williams, Iris DeMent,
Shawn Colvin, Victoria Williams, Gillian Welch, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Brown started Red House Records but has been so busy touring and recording
since the late 1980s that he handed off ownership and management of
the label to Bob Feldman of Minneapolis. Since the late 1980s, under
Feldman’s direction, Red House has grown to include a variety of emerging
musicians, including acoustic bluesman Guy Davis, singer-songwriters
Cliff Eberhardt and Garnet Rogers, as well as crusty old road veterans
like Rosalie Sorrels, Eliza Gilkyson, Loudon Wainwright III, and Utah
"In his particular field, he’s pretty much at the top of his game.
Greg has done it his own way. He plays the types of clubs he wants
to play," says Feldman. "He could play much larger venues,
but chooses more intimate clubs. Everything he’s done in the industry
he’s done his own way, and people are still discovering it. He is
very well regarded by his peers in the industry, and those include
some very famous people."
Brown has recorded 16 albums for Red House, dating back to "The
Iowa Waltz" in 1981, the label’s first release. Brown’s most recent
release is "Milk of the Moon" which includes guests T-Bone
Wolk and Karen Savoca. His other critically acclaimed — if not
stellar selling — releases include "Slant 6 Mind" "Covenant,"
"One Night" and "Further In." Songs Brown is known
for are covered on "Going Driftless." Gilkyson sings "Sleeper,"
Williams covers "Lately," Ani DiFranco puts her own spin on
"The Poet Game," Shawn Colvin interprets "Say a Little
Prayer," and Mary Chapin Carpenter puts her stamp on "Spring
On November 30 those unfamiliar with Brown can expect a wonderfully
funny show that’s also a crash course in American roots. Blues, old
country and songs rooted in traditional folk music, as well as classic
gospel and early rock ‘n’ roll, will all share the bill.
— Richard J. Skelly
Rogers School Theater, 382 Stockton Street, Hightstown, 609-259-5764.
The annual Thanksgiving Show features Greg Brown with Garnet Rogers.
$20. Saturday, November 30, 8 p.m.
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