Monday, May 24, 1999

Brown proves he's guit-steel greatest




BY CHRIS VARIAS
Enquirer contributor

        The headliner played an instrument of his own invention. The opening act once went seven rounds with Roberto Duran. It sounded like a sideshow double-bill at the Southgate House Friday night, but both acts — guit-steel master Junior Brown and singer-songwriter(and former boxer) Paul Thorn — proved ready for the big top.

        Mr. Brown's guit-steel is what the name indicates, an electric guitar and steel guitar fused into one body, allowing the player to switch easily between the two during one song. It seemed like such an elementary pairing — like that whole chocolate and peanut butter thing — but it took Mr. Brown to come up with it, and it's doubtful anyone could make more out of it.

        He was part Joe Maphis, part Joe Walsh, a country man with a rocker's heart. His solos were mostly of a polite, country mode, yet always hinting at a rock explosion. And when he would let loose with the rock, the sold-out crowd of 448 let loose along with him.

        Mr. Brown's three-piece band looked like Texas Troubadours sent to Newport via time machine. The acoustic guitarist, stand-up bassist, and snare drummer were all dudded up like their boss in suit and tie. Tanya Rae Brown, Junior's wife and usual rhythm guitarist, wasn't along. She was home with the grandkids.

        The hour-and-15-minute set was one big guit-steel display. The music never stopped. If he doesn't have the world's best original material, he might have the world's most limber fingers.

        Junior found material in interesting places. A lengthy version of the surf classic “Walk, Don't Run” borrowed guitar phrases from not one but three Jimi Hendrix tunes, including the one in which Mr. Hendrix cursed the fate of surf guitars. The crowd loved it. What would Jimi say now?

        In his opening set Mr. Thorn sang “I'd Rather Be a Hammer Than a Nail,” which goes back to his boxing days. He sang about taking “a dozen upper cuts” from Mr. Duran in the first round and throwing in the towel, but it wasn't nearly that grim.

        In April, 1987 Mr. Thorn got in the ring with Mr. Duran for a middleweight match. He suffered a cut over his eye, and the referee called the fight after the seventh round.

        It all proves that tough guys can write funny tunes. A couple of other titles included “Burn Down the Trailer Park” and “I'm Gonna Go to Viagra before it Falls.”

       



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