This week’s edition featured an in-studio session led by a singer-guitarist with an illustrious past, plus new tracks by Suzies, Joel Mabus, Twin Flame, EPCYA and more. (Podcast, videos)
Over the course of a career spanning more than four decades, singer and guitarist Roger Brown has worked with the likes of legendary artists Ringo Starr, Gerry Rafferty, Freddy Fender and Link Wray.
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He’s toured Europe and the United States extensively, and along the way, he’s managed to release a couple of solo albums while performing with a variety of Michigan-based, Americana-hued acts including Drive South (with Traverse City’s Mary Sue Wilkinson) and his own bands.
While the guitarist concedes he’d love to fly “over the radar” rather than as a well-kept, much-admired secret, Brown acknowledges he’s sustained a long career by leaning on his versatility – as a lead guitarist with touring bands, as a session musician, as a harmony singer, as a songwriter and collaborator.
“If you can broaden your skill set, it helps a whole lot in terms of having a career in music,” said the Holland-area guitarist. Of course, having a resume that includes writing music and lyrics for Beatles drummer Ringo Starr doesn’t hurt.
“It’s pretty cool when you knock on a hotel door and the door opens and a Beatle is standing there. It’s like, ‘Oh my god,’ ” Brown recalls of meeting the drummer as a “little hippie kid with my guitar.”
Brown wrote the music and lyrics to Ringo Starr’s 1977 children’s album, “Scouse the Mouse,” and worked with Starr as his musical director when it was recorded.
PLAYING A STEVE EARLE TRIBUTE WEDNESDAY, FOLK FEST ON FEB. 25
Brown will perform solo and with Drive South at Feb. 25’s 10th annual Great Indoor Folk Festival in Traverse City’s Village at Grand Traverse Commons. He plays a solo set at noon at Kirkbride Hall (along with John Kumjian, Jenny Thomas, Louan Lechler and Blair Miller), and then again with Drive South at 3:25 p.m. on the North Duo Stage.
The free family event, which runs from noon until 5:30 p.m. Sunday, features performances by more than 50 acts on seven stages, plus a “Cuppa Joe’s Open Mic” session that begins at 1 p.m.
“It’s extraordinary. It’s great fun because it covers acres,” Brown said of the Great Indoor Folk Festival, which is hosted annually by Northern Michigan Songwriters in the Round. “You’ve got music all over the place, in hallways, in front of shops and there are some stages, too.”
A native of North Carolina, Brown spent years in London as a young artist, cutting his teeth as a studio musician and singer, joining Gerry Rafferty’s bands The Humblebums and folk-rock outfit Stealers Wheel, touring with Freddy Fender, recording with iconic rock guitarist Link Wray. He became well-known for his accomplished finger-style guitar-playing.
When he returned to the United States and settled in the Holland area, he eventually began performing with a variety of country-hued bands including The Wilenes, Midnight Cattle Callers and others as well as his own projects.
“Thank goodness for the category of Americana which is so broad it includes almost everything,” said Brown, who grew up listening to bluegrass, folk and early rock ‘n’ roll and who bemoans the current state of modern mainstream country music.
His love of powerful songwriting and authentic country music induced him to participate in next week’s Steve Earle tribute show at Grand Rapids’ SpeakEZ Lounge (Wednesday (Feb. 21) spearheaded by Grand Rapids rock band The Honeytones.
VIDEO: Roger Brown, “Crying in the Dark”
He played Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” during his appearance this week for Local Spins on WYCE as well as a new original tune, “Crying in the Dark.” Check out the video for “Crying in the Dark” here and his tribute to Earle below, along with the full radio show podcast.
(As he put it, considering the recent school shooting tragedy in Florida, “The Devil’s Right Hand” is sadly appropriate.)
Brown currently is working on a sheaf of originals for a new solo album, which would be his first since 2013’s “Sometimes You’re Lucky” (a recording for which the title track has become his signature tune).
“I didn’t write anything for quite a while, but it was more like I couldn’t. I had writer’s block basically,” Brown said. “But then in the past year, I’ve probably got 30 songs now. It’s kind of astonishing. It’s kind of like they were being worked on by my subconscious. Deciding which ones to put on a CD, that’s what’s up next.”
The Feb. 15 episode of Local Spins on WYCE also featured the debut of tracks by Suzies, Twin Flame and Joel Mabus as well as music from EPCYA, The Soul Syndicate and Madcat Midnight Blues Journey. Listen to the show here.
And come back to Local Spins next week to hear an extended RSVP Music Chat podcast with Roger Brown, focusing on what it takes to craft a long career in music.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (Feb. 16, 2018)
VIDEO: Roger Brown, “The Devil’s Right Hand” (Steve Earle)
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