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Junior Brown 

With his unique voice, more unique song writing, and even more unique double necked “Guit-Steel” guitar, there has absolutely never been ANYONE like Junior Brown. He’s an American Original. Born in 1952 in Cottonwood, Arizona, Junior Brown showed an affinity for music at an early age when the family moved to a rural area of Indiana near Kirksville. In the following years, Junior began to experience Country music and remembers it as “growing up out of the ground like the crops – it was everywhere; coming out of cars, houses, gas stations and stores like the soundtrack of a story, but Country music programs on TV hadn’t really come along much yet; not until the late fifties.” Discovering a guitar in his grandparent’s attic, he spent the next several years woodshedding with records and the radio. Junior was also able to tap into music he couldn’t hear at home which older, college aged kids were listening to. This was possible due to his father’s employment at small campuses throughout the next decade as the family moved twice again. As a young boy he was able to experience the thrill of performing before live audiences, at parties, school functions even singing and playing guitar for five thousand Boy Scouts at an Andrews Air Force Base jamboree; then while still a teenager, getting the chance to sit in with Rock and Roll pioneer, Bo Diddley. Armed with this broad spectrum of influences, he began to develop a storehouse of musical chops.

Early on, Junior realized he had to keep his interest in Country music a secret; “it was like a secret friend I carried around, being careful not to tell anyone (especially girls) about my love for it because I thought they would laugh at me.” It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that Junior Brown would proudly explore the passion for the music he had loved since his early childhood in Indiana. With many prominent figures as his inspiration (Country legends, some who he would work with years later), he spent his nights in small clubs across the southwest. “I played more nights in honkytonks during the Seventies and Eighties than most musicians will see in a lifetime… I did so many years of that, night after night, four sets a night, fifteen minute breaks; I mean after that, you’ve gotta get good or you gotta get out. The early 1970’s California Country dance club scene was particularly competitive, but I learned professionalism and stage demeanor which has served me well to this day.” More recently however, Junior has shown himself to be equally adept at a wide variety of American music styles beyond Country. These include Rock and Roll, Blues, Hawaiian, Bluegrass and Western Swing.

There is a dependable consistency in Junior’s writing style (he writes nearly all his material) yet he’s always full of pleasant surprises. Though Junior always knew he could sing and play what he wanted, he had yet to explore his potential as a songwriter. “I realized no one was going to walk into a club and discover me…so I started hanging out with some songwriters who I’d played some jobs with, and they showed me how to support myself by writing and publishing.” With his writing coming together by the mid-Eighties, Brown upgraded his gear in a way that no artist had ever done. Struggling through each show, going back and forth plugging and unplugging guitar to steel guitar while singing, he had a dream one night about the two instruments mysteriously melding into one. The result was Brown’s unique invention, the “Guit-Steel”, a double necked instrument combining standard guitar with steel guitar. Built by Michael Stevens of Stevens Electric Instruments, the Guit-Steel allows Junior to switch instruments quickly in mid song while singing. According to Brown, his guitar and steel guitar playing became more his own around this time, with less imitation of others and more his own original ideas and licks. This maturation coincided with the development of a completely “Junior Brown” style of songwriting which employs subtle dry wit to some songs – others can be more overtly humorous, or just plain dead serious; like his playing, there is a wide range of styles that when combined can only spell Junior Brown.

In the early nineties Brown and his band (including wife Tanya Rae) relocated to Texas to the active Austin music scene and landed a weekly gig at the Continental club. Having worked as a sideman for many of the Austin-based acts over the years, Junior was already well familiar with the town. His unique and entertaining combination of singing, songwriting, instrumental and production skills led to a seven record deal with Curb Records that began with “Twelve Shades of Brown” in 1993. He later released two albums on the TelArc label. There were several Grammy nods, a CMA (Country Music Association) award for “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead”, movie and repeated TV appearances like Letterman, Conan, Saturday Night Live, Austin City Limits, SpongeBob, X Files, Dukes of Hazzard, Me Myself and Irene, Tresspass, Still Breathing, Blue Collar Comedy Tour 1 and 2, and more recently, Better Call Saul. And there were the Ad Campaigns; The Gap, Lee Jeans and Lipton Tea. As Junior became more well known, he began to collaborate on projects with some of his heroes. These include a duet with Ralph Stanley for which Junior received a Bluegrass Music Association Award (IBMA), a duet and video with Hank Thompson, as well as duets with video and record collaborations with the Beach Boys, George Jones, Leon McAuliffe, Ray Price, Leona Williams, Lynn Morris, Lloyd Green and Doc Watson. He even played guitar for Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys in a radio commercial.

Junior is currently finishing up recording on his latest album, “Deep In The Heart Of Me”. Release date is slated for Spring 2017. Junior’s performance on the promotional song, “Better Call Saul” was recorded and released both as a video on AMC as well as a flexible 33 1/3rd vinyl record included in the show’s box set from Season One. Junior, Tanya Rae and the band continue to tear up the highways and no doubt will be appearing in concert near you one of these days. Seeing Junior live is a definite must, so GUIT WITH IT ’cause he’s AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL!

Nathan Mongol Wells

When Ottoman Turks frontman and songwriter Nathan Mongol Wells steps outside of the band for his solo debut, From A Dark Corner, due out this year on State Fair Records, he doesn’t present as one of the characters from the Ottoman Turks’ uptempo songs -- the conspiracy-poisoned uncle, the insecure southern bro, the apathetic rocker stuck in a perpetual party, or the vengeful corpse of JFK. Instead, Wells’ solo work feels more like it comes from the perspective of a man who spent all night arguing with those lunatics at a Dallas dive bar and just sat down in a quiet room of his house with a chilled glass of well tequila to quiet their voices in his head. 

Beyond two wholly unique studio albums and 12 years worth of live performances numbering in the thousands, Ottoman Turks (Rolling Stone, Dallas Morning News) gave the world the solo careers of the band’s guitarist Joshua Ray Walker and bassist Billy Law. But the Turks are the brainchild of Wells, and while Walker went deeper into his country influences and Law put out a series of poignantly literal ballads, From A Dark Corner is the introduction to the man behind the Turks’ cinematic universe. Less raucous, but still packing the internal chaos of the characters he previously created (Walker, who co-produced the album with John Pedigo, describes the debut project as “fervorous”), From A Dark Corner is more autobiographical than Wells’ previous work.

“This is more traditional, more honest,” says Wells, who adopted the moniker “Mongol” out of a high school obsession with the intercontinental auto-race the Mongol Rally. “I think of it as me when I’m singing.” 

Still, there seems to be an unintentional aversion to the ordinary in everything that Wells creates that prevents even his solo work from fitting perfectly into the Americana genre. Never shedding a hint of menace in his voice, he has a knack for adding whimsy to the darker themes he writes about in a style that feels touched by Roger Miller. 

Credit the juxtaposition to spending his high school years living on the outskirts of Deep Ellum, Dallas’ historically eclectic musical neighborhood. Or a line of influences that somehow went almost directly from The Strokes to Tom Waits to Hayes Carll. Whatever it is, Wells admits that he might be too “antsy” to write songs designed to be played from a stool in a quiet room. 

From A Dark Corner still touches on the same kind of themes that a Guy Clark devotee looks for and are delivered like a cold burst of wind through a closing door, giving the sense that the songs’ runtimes are fleeting away, like Jerry Jeff Walker’s rendition of “Desperado Waiting for a Train.” 

The album’s opener and first song Wells wrote of the batch, “Beulah Land,” is a slinking, sinister song about loss. “Rather than about a romantic relationship, it’s about a friendship falling apart, which I think in many ways is more devastating,” Wells says. Darkness engulfs the song “Taken For A Ride,” as well, in which the narrator unconvincingly suggests the best intentions. Wells describes the song as being about “the turmoil of making promises you can’t keep and figuring out what you want.” 

Wells’ clever songwriting is perhaps best showcased on “First Day It’s Warm,” a celebration of winter’s end in Texas. Between the childlike references (“freeze tag, dirty mags, Six Flags, and ice cream”) and the reality that Texas winters are relatively forgiving to begin with, a message seems to emerge: You barely need an excuse to give in to your own personal impulses. 

Written about his time living with Law and Ottoman Turks drummer Paul Hinojo in College Station, where the three went to school, in a small house referred to as “Turks’ Mansion,” “First Day It’s Warm” references the elementary school the young band lived across the street from. Paying their bills with weekly plasma donations and playing wiffle ball while drinking Evan Williams bottles in the front yard, the school bell was sometimes their only sense of time. 

“We drove the local housing prices down,” Wells remembers with a laugh and hints of nostalgia and shame. 

“Juarez” is the song that would fit most comfortably on an Ottoman Turks album. “Rather Go To Hell” is a modern take on Johnny Paycheck’s anti-work anthem “Take This Job and Shove It.” And “Honest Drinking” and “Two Heads” perfectly distill the anthem’s winking nihilism. 

Like Walker, Law and even other Dallas-Fort Worth self-starters like Charley Crockett, Old 97s, Toadies, Cliffs, Squeezebox Bandits and Eleven Hundred Springs, Wells’ music is defined by a decade-plus of live performance. 

“Performing is still the greatest thing in the world,” Wells says. 

No matter the grimness implied in From A Dark Corner’s title, anyone that has seen Wells perform knows he’ll find a way to get you to dance to the songs in a live setting. It’s only paradoxical as far as you give yourself the time to think about it. But by then, Wells is already on to the next song.

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All Ages