How Junior Brown Beat Out Jerry Reed to Narrate the Dukes of Hazzard
With his handmade "guit-steel" guitar and deep, country drawl, Junior Brown makes a hell of an impression. Over the course of four decades, Brown has taken his blues-inspired honky tonk across the nation and around the world, thrilling fans of honest and well crafted roots music. In truth, Brown is one of a very select group of artists who has as great instrumental skills as he does songwriting chops.
Speaking from a tour stop in Canada and in anticipation of playing Saturday night at the Kessler Theater, Brown spoke with DC9 about playing with Bob Dylan, narrating The Dukes of Hazzard and scoring Spongebob Squarepants.
Are you getting any free healthcare while you are in Canada?
[Laughs] No, just hanging in there the best I can. I enjoy coming up and getting away from the hot weather once in a while. We had a pretty hot summer with a lot of chiggers. There are no chiggers up here.
Is there any difference between Canadian and American audiences?
No, they are the same. I've played in Canada many times over the years. I first came here in the early 80's. I've been coming up to this country for a long time.
Do you have a strong following there?
Yes, they are singing the words to my songs. They are requesting all my songs. Last night, I ended up playing quite a bit over my time just taking the requests. It's great because you don't know until you get on stage whether the crowd knows who you are or not. When they are singing your songs, you know they are fans. That's a good feeling to have.
You don't think about Canada being a haven for roots music.
It is. There are certain little pockets that have interests in country bands and blues bands.
Weren't you originally from Indiana?
No, I was born in Arizona, but my parents quickly moved to Indiana. My earliest memories were in Indiana.
Do you still reside in Austin?
No, I am all over the place. I have places everywhere. I don't know how many homes I've got now.
Where do you spend the most time?
Right now, Missouri; I am out in the woods.
While you were in Austin, the city was going through some big changes. Were those changes for the better?
Well, half of California moved there and brought the traffic and the attitude with them. That didn't help much, but in a lot of ways the city became very successful and rich. I remember when it was just a little college and music town. You can't but get nostalgic about those days.
You are going to be playing the Kessler Theater, one of Dallas' best sounding venues.
I always love playing the Kessler because it's in a nice, old area of Dallas, an area that has come back to life in a very nice way. They have fixed up the building so nicely and it has great acoustics. There is always a great crowd there. Dallas has always been one of our best audiences. I am not just saying that. I really mean it. I remember playing the Three Teardrops Tavern. We played the one in Deep Ellum, the Sons of Hermann Hall. We've always had a good following in Dallas. We've played the Granada and that place has great sound as well. I like the older theaters. They were built better. The newer theaters were built for a newer sound. Back then, they hired acousticians and there was a real technique to it.
You toured with Bob Dylan when he was playing in minor league baseball stadiums. How was that experience?
It was a lot of fun. Every night, we would go to another city and it would be some old baseball stadium. Some of them were pretty old. That was kind of fun. We were talking about acoustics a minute ago. When you are outside, the sound just goes everywhere. Dylan would come over and knock on the door of the van and come visit. He was very nice and I got to know him a little bit. I haven't seen him since then.
How did you end up narrating the Dukes if Hazzard film?
I honestly don't know how I got that job. I was trying to do it the way Waylon Jennings did it on the original TV show. I kind of copied him the best that I could. I heard it came down to me and Jerry Reed. I heard that Burt Reynolds wanted Jerry Reed to do it because they had done a bunch of movies together. That didn't work out and they got me. I kind of expected Jerry Reed to get it because he has more experience.
You've also done the music for Spongebob Squarepants. It's hard to imagine five year old kids jamming out to Junior Brown.
[Laughs] It's funny how many of them know it's me because my name is on the end titles. I did the whole soundtrack instrumentally.
You've made your mark not only on the roots music scene, but on pop culture in general.
Yes, well, I've taken advantage of some opportunities I've had. I had a good record company, Curb Records, that was behind me and pushing me real good. I got a lot of opportunities out of that, commercials and stuff.
You release an EP, Volume 10, in 2012 and that was your first release in 7 years. Why the gap?
The whole record business changed. I did seven or eight records with Curb and then I did two with Telarc. They were known more for jazz and I was one of their first country acts. Then I just decided to go with quality over quantity. I wasn't going to run in and do an album with twenty songs on it. I wanted to take my time and write some songs that had something to say, not just a bunch of filler stuff and cover tunes. All of that takes time. You got to have something to say. I put out the EP, did it my own way. It's done pretty well.
You've also worked with the late George Jones. How did his passing impact you?
I loved George. He was one of a kind. There is nobody you can compare him to. I never worked with him musically. I helped out making his video, reenacting the time when he took off on the tractor because his wife took his keys away. I played the part of the sheriff who arrested him. I had a great time with him, got to know him and his wife. They were very hospitable. They gave us the run of the house. They couldn't have been nicer. They gave a signed copy of his book and said I did a good job in the video. That meant a lot to me.