Phil Brown

PHILWho is Phil Brown?  Phil Brown is a phenomenal talent- singer, songwriter, guitarist- MUSICIAN.  He’s had his songs recorded by Cher, Pat Benatar, Kim Carnes, Ace Frehley from Kiss, Tower of Power, Kix, Steve Perry (Journey), Lou Graham (Foreigner), Lisa Hartman, Doro Pesch, Bonnie Tyler and many more.  J. Rockett Audio Designs recently released the Phil Brown Led Boots Overdrive pedal.  He is one of the most interesting guys I’ve run across and I think you’ll feel the same after you read this interview.

Who were some of the artists that first made you want to pick up a guitar?

Walt Disney, Peter Paul and Mary, Chet Atkins – Elvis – the Beatles , Harry Belafonte, Leonard Bernstein, The Rat Pack, Barbara Streisand  Laura Nyro, The Mamas and Papas, Spirit, Deep Purple, Motown/Stax/Muscle Shoals/ The Wrecking Crew, The Byrds & Buffalo Springfield, The Who, The Kinks, Rolling Stones, early Jethro Tull, Johnny Winter, Clapton, Beck and Page.  Joe Pass, Lenny Breau, Wes Montgomery, ZZ Top, The Moby Grape, The Doors, Dobie Grey, The Righteous Bros, The Animals. The Hollies, Shirley Bassey and Cliff Richard, The Yardbirds, The Zombies , Petula Clark, The Dave Clark Five.  My music teacher from Los Alamos – Adele Bradbury, my first junior high friend – Eric Urban, Steppenwolf, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, Jerry Miller, BB and Albert and Freddie King, Link Wray, Duanne Eddy, The Ventures, ALL of the blues greats.  AND Django along with Mozart/Beethoven/Hayden/Schubert/Liszt, Gene Autry … All violin and viola players … Ahh Hank Williams, my dad and mom, brother and sister. Al Hirt & Perry Como.  Just to name a few.

In addition to being such a fine guitarist, your voice is amazing! Who were some of the vocalists that influenced you?

PHIL01I always thought that my singing was so so- no big deal.  I was a valuable asset as a 2nd singer /a background vocalist. Never a front man. I had a crazy idea that I wanted to be like Robert Plant, Sam Cook and/or a heavy metal singer … even an Ian Gillian type but I did not have their range.  One day I’m doing a gig – 1/2 way through the singer gets ill and I have to cover for her and just like that I get it! The audience went crazy and here I am – like a crooner … Bing Crosby – Frank Sinatra – Tony Bennett – Chet Baker meets Jack Bruce into a David Bowie/Anthony Newley and Tom Jones with a dash of Steve Miller and Lowell and Paul Rodgers thrown in for good measure type.  (Well, one can hope can’t they?)

From watching a lot of great talent I learned that a real vocalist has more reach and power when one “sits in the middle of a track” when he’s singing versus trying to sing way on top of everybody. I watched everyone night after night turn and listen to me with their mouths wide open as I did arrangements of everybody’s tunes from old blues and British Invasion tunes to Burt Bacharach to The Beatles to Willie Dixon to The Beach Boys, etc.  Tunes versus just watching and cringing inside while a guitarist or lead singer is trying to sing and failing… Valiantly – capisce?

There’s a psychology in a vocal performance that appears to be very magical and appealing especially with a great groove, melody and lyric. It’s been said that only a few singers have this combination. I am still working on it – It’s a very amazing thing to be a lead singer that plays an instrument. Does luck have anything to do with it? Maybe it’s a combo -pack of moxie, intuition, inspiration and imagination all tied up at once.

What was it like coming into Little Feat after Lowell George had passed and Paul Barrere was having vocal problems?

Quite challenging. Lowell was not an act you could follow.  Paul and the band and I did almost 1/2 of my tunes with main Little Feat titles. We seemed to fit well and it was like a new adventure every night.  A fan recently sent me a CD of a Kansas City board mix performance from 1981.  What stuck out back then is exactly what I am doing and known for today.  Adding my flavor is what I do – I always hear MORE that what was originally recorded as you can see re [The Jimi Project] – yes?  That being said there was a lot of pressure but I loved every minute of it!  The guys were quite good to me

Listening to your playing has warped my mind…in a good way! Where did your approach to the instrument come from? And how has it changed over the years?

I’m not really playing – more like the music plays me.  Have you ever skipped a smooth stone across a river or lake? It seems to defy gravity.  So, I throw it out there and voila’!  It works!  I am a classically trained violinist from 7 years of age until I was 13.  I was also trained on saxophone and as a tuba player.
I listen more to the silence in my playing as I perform – it’s an awareness of awareness kinda thing – y’dig?

I open myself up and it’s happening.  Of course the better the players the more I open.  All musicians have this ability…  Some of us have more 🙂

What was it like getting your own signature guitar pedal?

Led Boots Straight Medium-resized-600It’s truly astounding to be recognized and especially now. I have worked in obscurity for most of my life – The pedal has been a real eye opener career wise for not only myself but for many fans and musicians who are tone fanatics. I suppose we all try and mimic our heroes and then god willing your own magic begins to assert itself. I’m a violin / viola influenced player. I’ve always had IT or more to the point … Whatever IT is IT’S had me and always will.

It takes time to find about who and what you are as an artist .  Rockett Pedals sought me out and designed a pedal for me that is exceptional .  No, I don’t play with a pick nor do I run my volume up on the guitar on 10.  Always a bit back – there’s this sweet spot I am in the middle of and this pedal only heightens my awareness and adds a significant dimension to my soundscape.  “You know it when you hear it,”  they say but truth be told I feel it before I play it.  I’m grateful to Rockett Pedals.  They really created an amazing tool that I am lucky enough to use … Meanwhile as I reinvent myself on a daily basis … Feels pretty good.

In addition to your Rockett signature pedal, what other effects are you using, both live and in the studio?

I’m a Line 6 endorsee – the M13 is another tool I use. I have delays and soundscape settings I use that I program – What genius created this at Line 6 – and thank you Cosmo Watts!

I utilize an ancient Roland CE-1 Stereo Chorus circa 1978,  2 DL-4’s, a Rockett Pedals Animal, a POG Electro-Harmonix box, a Lee Jackson compression pedal, Lee Jackson Octavia and his Gain Booster – a must if you want go to the next world. (I’m not kidding!)  Asterope Guitar Cables (Do you want 40% of your tone back? Get these cables – worth every penny)  Curt Mangan Strings 10-46.
Rocky Mountain Clay Slides along with a ring finger slide, a big old Brass slide that’s heavier on one end than the other.  An old relic Ernie Ball Vol Pedal and…

What about guitars and amps?

I’ve been a Fender cat forever it seems. No vintage gtrs to speak of but I have some great instruments with Lollar Specials, Seymour Duncan, Suhr pickups. Several Les Pauls – a couple of 7 string axes. Player Built Strats and ’51 Esquire knockoff, a few Telecasters and a pink Philacaster built by Mollenhauer with a Don Ramsay Linear Tremolo – Just absolutely fantastic!  DRC built a guitar for me with a strat conversion – another of my faves.   Two Japanese ’57 Strats.  All of the Strats have “kill” switches – part of my arsenal.

As for amplifiers – I’ve been a Marshall cat since I started doing this but, Bogner is a huge part of my soundscape – Reinhold sent me two customized versions of his 20th Anniversary Shiva and a one of a kind Gold Finger 90 amplifier. I use two 4×12 cabinets with Greenbacks.  I happen to have some vintage cabs that I also use.  I have Robin Trower’s original 8×10 oversize cab.  A 1972 Hiwatt speaker cab with a mix of 65 watt Celestions and 55 watt Eminence Private Jacks – I like to mix’em up!  I also use a Marshall 100W 1978 Mark II Lead amp, a Lee Jackson XLS 500 50W head and Lee’s infamous Ampeg VL-1002. Lots of other gear.

And for acoustics?

I endorse Taylor Guitars. I love acoustic guitars … I have quite a collection of acoustics, but Taylor hits me in the right spot.

It takes a lot of guts to put out an album of all Jimi Hendrix songs… yet your “The Jimi Project” takes the music someplace else. Instead of all the tired covers you usually hear, your album brings a certain “freshness” to the material if you will. How did this come about?

31zmtpFRxOL._SX300_It was an accident really – a friend if mine “suggested rather strongly” that I work up some Jimi tunes.  I hadn’t thought of it initially. Every one loves Hendrix songs… never felt I could do any justice to repeating the “same old – same old” plus I am not a good imitator.
I had a dream later that night and the whole idea came to me. That day I had some rehearsal time at Uncle in N Hollywood – “Manic Depression” was instantaneous – 1/2 way through the beginning of showing it to my guys I looked up to see that there were about 20 people standing in the room with us that were not rehearsing – THEY ALL JUST STOOD THERE!  One of the visitors asked who I was?  Everybody laughed including me -Aha! Y’know when you just know.

Over the next 5 years – as I had another recording in the works –
“Cruel Inventions” that was not quite finished – I labored over the Jimi stuff.
I chose obscure but relevant songs to me to record – Taking on Hendrix songs is like fighting for birth control and the right to divorce with the Catholic Church. I had a club that played in every Sunday in Canoga Park. Each Sunday a drummer would come out and play a gig with the bassist and and he’d do his best to sound like Mitch Mitchell.  Finally a guy showed up who got it. I would record a bit if a loop and play it and then I’d go home and record the versions. Eventually I had 12 Jimi songs together – jeez, now that I look back it took a tremendous effort to ALLOW this Jimi thing to work. I was in the right place at the right time – When I was growing up I adored Hendrix – He was important to me and so authentic! I wanted to be good … like like him.  I’m still working at it y’know?

In addition to the “Jimi Project”, I really enjoyed “Imagine This.” What’s next on the horizon for Phil Brown?

Imagine thisIMAGINE THIS took another 5 years to make. I amassed over 350 songs together. A GF of mine took off to Santa Barbara for a week – listened and listened and came back with 26 songs. I whittled them all down to 14 songs. I started the recording in LA, then onto Denver then to Albuquerque/Santa Fe to Austin, to Springfield, Connecticut and eventually to Nideggen, Germany where I finished and mixed the recording. There are some amazing musicians that somehow put up with me long enough to make a fabulous recording.

What’s next for me? I have a new album in the works, some incredible musicians to work with and a new band. There is a major indie film agency-management company that has insisted upon me being one of the principles in a new documentary/music film project Phil Brown & Apaches From Paris – Imagine This – The Making of a Brand commencing here in Nashville in December and finishing up in LA soon after. Heady stuff for an unknown like me!

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Terry “T-Bone” Mathley is the host of T-Bone’s Prime Cuts on WICR 88.7 in Indianapolis. Editor for and contributor to Volume Treble Bass.  Guitarist, Music lover, Music journalist, Detroit Tiger fan…

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