by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
Some people say JJ Brown sounds like Neil Finn from Crowded House and Simply Red. Others say he sounds like Kenny Loggins, and maybe even a helping of Meat Loaf. JJ hears a hint of Gavin DeGraw, but JJ Brown sounds like…JJ Brown.
The Kingsburg acoustic rocker was born Joshua John Brown in Columbus, Ohio, of a gospel-singing mother and a guitar-playing father. As a teen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he learned guitar, piano, and drums, became part of the local music scene, and performed frequently. JJ enlisted in the United States Navy, serving in two wars and thirteen countries, performing in the hangar bay of the USS Nimitz.
After his Navy days, JJ spent time in Nashville, where he worked in recording studios with Tim McGraw, Wynona Judd, Sarah Evens, and others, before settling in the Valley. He has played in many local venues, including a gig as the opening act for Kevin Costner and The Modern West, The Doobie Brothers, and Peter Frampton at The Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore.
He says, “Opening for Peter Frampton was pretty surreal, because I was just watching him on VH1 as one of the top 100 guitar players of all time, and I couldn’t believe that, in a few hours, I would be sharing the same stage as him,” but that is not the experience that means the most to JJ.
“I recently hosted a Singer/Songwriter Showcase in February at Engelmann’s Cellars in Fresno” JJ says. “I wanted the showcase to focus on the message of the songs and how they were written. It was kind of like VH1′s UNPLUGGED. I talked about a song that I had written for my sister who lost my nephew Billy a few years ago. It’s called ‘One Way or The Other’. I almost cried on stage while I was talking about it. Then I sang it like never before. After the show, people were coming up to me in tears, telling me how much that song meant to them. As a songwriter and performer, that it is what it is all about: the moment you realize that your music has connected with someone’s heart and not just their ears.”
Although his writing leans toward the acoustic, JJ has performed music of many genres, saying, “I have tried almost all styles and feel pretty comfortable with hard rock. I think what pulls me towards the acoustic side of things these days is that I am focusing on writing songs. I want to write songs that connect to people’s ears and hearts. I feel that I can do that without a full band, most of the time. That puts me in the category of acoustic rock. I would say that there is a strong Pop element to my music, though. As far as country goes, I think there is a little country in all my ballads. Besides, I grew up in Chattanooga and lived in Nashville for a while; it’s a must!”
Despite the opportunities he has already had to work with some major performers, JJ still has his dream match-ups. “If I could ‘jam’ with one particular person, it would be a toss-up between Dave Matthews or David Gray. If I could meet or co-write a song with anyone I wanted, it would definitely be Robert Smith from The Cure. I am a HUGE fan. ‘A Letter To Elise’ by The Cure is probably one of the most beautiful songs ever written, in my opinion.”
JJ has tried many methods of songwriting, but for him the most successful way of writing is to just throw himself out there. “I can usually tell when I have a good song coming on. I will spend the whole day in some deep thought about something. Then, when I pick up my guitar, I usually just start singing and the chords and melody find themselves.”
Often, he can write the whole song one time through in about 2-3 minutes. “I record every take, because I know that if I don’t, I may forget a great idea. After the first take, I go back and re-work the melody, chords, and lyrics. I may do this for several hours. Then I let it soak for a day or two and approach the lyrics again, to make sure that they are strong and can relate well to the listener. Sometimes, I’ll have my producer or my wife listen to it for an objective opinion. It’s always amusing to me how I can hear one thing and they may hear something completely opposite. I just focus on not settling for okay but great. A song can almost always be better.”
Right now, music is a part-time facet of his life, and his goal is to appreciate music and the art of making it. He encourages others to hang on to their hopes and aspirations, telling them, “Yes, I am a firm believer in living your dreams! Life is too short to live in If-Only Land. Start living the life that you have always dreamed of for yourself today and stay true to your heart. Live everyday like it’s your last.”
JJ Brown lives his words and his music, because he is…himself.