Whether they are into country, blues or rockabilly, fans of great guitar playing are in for a treat when Junior Brown comes to town.
Within Brown’s lengthy solos, there are repeated flashes of his influences. The mix of jazz with country brought Scotty Moore to mind. The pinch harmonics and volume swells were reminiscent of Roy Buchanan. The emotive one-and half-step bends? Albert King.
But even with each musical reference and nod, Brown wrangles the guitar into something entirely his own. He deftly switches from guitar to lap steel and wows the audience with virtuosity on both. However, even with all the pyrotechnics of his chops, the most impressive aspect of his playing is his touch. His ability to hold back and give both the guitar and lap steel such a vocal-like quality is, without a doubt, the result of becoming one with his instrument over 40-plus years.
A true showman of yesteryear, Brown’s stage presence is magnetic as he dances and squirms around his guitar wearing a standard suit and white cowboy hat.
While he seems a natural onstage, he was not as impressive in the math classroom.
“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, whose guitar playing was 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 in order to stop having to plug into 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.”
— Spencer Kilpatrick and Tim Parsons
An Evening with Junior Brown When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4; doors open at 7
Where: Cargo Concert Hall
Tickets: $25 and $30
For: concertgoers 18 and older
ABOUT 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.