T. Graham Brown isnít a trend follower; neither is he a trendsetter. An artist of major stature, he stands alone in who he is and what he does; no one can emulate him. There are no copy-cat T. Graham Browns. He had one of the first hits to climb all the way to number one on both the Country and the Christian charts. He is a member of the Commercial Hall of Fame. Heís acclaimed as one of the artists on the "All Night, All Stars" a compilation of Country R & B. His "Tee-ness" definitely stands apart.
The real deal, the original, the one-and-only sat down with CSO recently to talk about his work and his current studio album, The Next Right Thing.
Up front, I asked, "Are you ready to talk about this treasure? "
"I know you have it. Did you listen to any of it?" he responded, almost as if he expected a "not yet" answer.
"More than once, more than twice, more than three times - itís been in my office player since I got it."
"Did you like it?" he asked softly.
"You really caught me big time with ĎThe Next Right Thing,Ď ĎTools for the Soul,Ď and ĎWhich Way to Pray,Ď and I hope Iím not going to cry on you. But thatís what music is supposed to do, isnít it Ė touch the emotions?"
"Iím proud of that record!"
"How does it feel to have a record, that the Chicago Tribune lauded as the Top Country Album of 2003, and not have all the people hearing it that you want to hear it?"
"Well, itís obviously gratifying, Ė gratifying and frustrating at the same time. Great product, small label, not enough distribution. But what can you do Ė play the hand thatís dealt you. You just roll with it and go on to the next one."
Brownís ability to "roll with it" is hard won. When he first arrived in Nashville, he quickly found work as a demo singer because of his distinctive voice. He signed with a major label. Heís played the label roulette game that artists are forced into when labels merge, die, or lose the key players that believe in you.
He had hits with "I Tell It Like It Used to Be," "I wish I Could Hurt That Way Again," "Come Hell or High Water," "Come As You Were," "Darlene," and others. Among those "others" and in a class by itself is his signature song, "Wine into Water," an anthem which represented a turning point in his life, an acknowledgement of the need to embrace a new way to deal with the stresses of life and his profession.
His latest studio album, The Next Right Thing, has been acclaimed by the critics and the reviewers, but has seen limited air play. As one newspaper article stated it, "Faithful fans and newcomers should just go out and buy this record Ö This is adult country music, made by a grownup for other grownups." Check out the "Bag of Bones" duet with George Jones, described as "lacerating." And Steve Earleís "My Old Friend the Blues," was never more soulful. Each cutís a treasure.
Heís still on the road, despite admitting (after a little questioning) that he really didnít need to be, but that he has a great band and that made it fun to go out. "I have awesome players; theyíre all studio musicians when theyíre not out on the road. Itís a joy to get up there. If I had a crummy band, it would be a real pain."
Now letís talk to the man who earned recognition in the Commercial Hall of Fame, as the face and the voice of Taco Bellís "Run for the Border" campaign.
"What other commercials have you done?"
"Well, Iíve been the voice of so many products. Iíve done every soft drink, beer, car and truck, fast food place. Iíve done hundreds of them. Ö Luckily, I can sing a lot of different styles and I have that gruff kind of voice and whenever they need somebody, I usually get the call. Iíve got a pretty good reputation in that community." Laughingly, he continued, "I tell people that theyíve sat at home and flipped through me a lot of times, not knowing who it was. "
That kind of voice has been described as a cross between Lefty Frizzell and Otis Redding, earning Brown the nickname of the "white soul man of country." He responded to how he felt about that, "You know I usually say that I have a lot of soul Ė a cross between George Jones and Jerry Lee Lewis. I grew up way out in the boondocks, listening to this little A.M. radio station that was unformatted. They might play a Jerry Lee Lewis song, then an Otis Redding song, then the Rolling Stones, then Johnny Cash. It was every kind of music; I grew up listening to everything."
Brown has been a part of another project that heís very proud of, an album titled "All Night, All Stars." Produced by Tim Wilson for Capitol records, itís a compilation of Southern R & B that includes some major players in the genre, Greg Allman, Amy Helms, Jimmy Hall, Russell Smith from the Amazing Rhythm Aces Ö "I did three songs on it. Itís one of my favorite records that Iíve been involved with, lots of fun to make. But there wonít be any singles released from it. Capitol said theyíre just really trying to get some of those songs on the movie soundtracks."
Whatís next for T. Graham Brown? Well, you can be sure he wonít be looking at the charts, determining which way the winds are blowing, and setting his sails in that direction. As the title cut of The Next Right Thing relates, "I surrender myself to what the future will bring/ Iím just trying to do the next right thing." Fortunately, for the rest of us that means making great music.http://www.tgrahambrown.com
Feature article by Helen Neal