For many country fans, the name Junior Brown is synonymous with the ridiculously silly video, “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” — especially when the 6-foot-7-inch blonde femme fatale chases the rather short musician around a farm.
“It was one of the longest continuous shoots the company had ever done,” Brown remembers now. “There were over a hundred camera set-ups, and 50 is considered a lot. The crew was worn out at the end of that day.”
But the hard work paid off, when the video won a 1996 CMA award, beating out Brooks & Dunn, Jeff Foxworthy, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson and George Strait. With a song title like that, and its follow-up “Venom Wearing Denim,” Brown quickly established himself as comic relief in country circles. But his musicianship is anything but a joke.
A native of Arizona, Brown grew up idolizing Ernest Tubb, yet was fond of rockabilly music and guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix. He spent the ’70s playing in the Southwest regional bar scene, singing covers and switching back and forth between his electric guitar and his steel guitar. Finally, he dreamed up a “guit-steel” — one unit combining the necks of both — and hired a guitar maker to build it for him. Since its arrival, the two have been inseparable. Brown’s other companion, the lovely Miss Tanya Rae, still occasionally plays in Brown’s band but doesn’t travel often. They currently live in Tulsa.
Throughout his career, Brown has found inspiration on the highway. One of his most memorable videos was “Highway Patrol,” and he even named one of his albums Semi-Crazy. Clearly, he is no stranger to the road.
“It seems like when you do as much driving as I do, in the bus or traveling all over the country, it’s one coast and then another coast and back to the other coast, and it all becomes like one state after a while,” he says. But he’s once again revisiting those stretches of blacktop to promote his new album, Down Home Chrome, with a spicy cover of Hendrix’ “Foxey Lady” along with goofy titles like “Little Red Rivi-Airhead” and the wailing “Hill Country Hot Rod Man.”
For those not in Texas, the Hill Country is a spectacularly scenic area that encompasses the communities surrounding Austin. Indeed, the Live Music Capital of the World is where Brown got his big break, packing the dark-but-cool Continental Club in the hip, yet unpretentious, neighborhood of South Austin.
“If you’re going to go to any of the clubs to listen to music, that’s one of the first ones you should go to,” Brown says. “It’s got a great location and an intimate atmosphere and very heavy on the local music scene there, which is so important. When I was playing in Austin, the reason I kept back going there, after trying to go elsewhere and do certain things, was the wonderful live music scene there and how they listen to you. They don’t treat you like a jukebox. They listen to your lyrics and watch your playing. With the advent of modern technology and home entertainment and stuff, that became less important. Austin’s held on to it.”
Brown’s audience is as likely to contain farmers and truckers as it is college kids wearing trucker hats with John Deere logos. That diversity is reflected in the venues that hire him as well. In the next few months, his booking include a folk club in Michigan, a rock club in North Carolina, a World Café public radio taping in Pennsylvania, a bandstand in Virginia and a dance hall in Texas. He also toured with Toby Keith and Blake Shelton earlier this year.
But don’t look for a tour bus next to the stage. Though he learned to drive in a 1961 Rambler station wagon, Brown now prefers to travel in a luxury motor home, complete with a bathroom, shower, kitchen and washer and dryer.
“I searched around and this is the one that looks most like a bus,” Brown says. “It doesn’t look that much like a motor home, because they’re a little boxy-looking. But I like it because when you’re driving down the road, they don’t peg you for a musician. They don’t go, ‘Hey, there goes a whole bunch of musicians.’ You can be more subtle, I guess. It’s nice to blend in.”