He possesses a deep, throaty voice rich as dark chocolate and a nimble knowledge of the fretboard. He plays a double-necked device that's part six-string electric and part steel guitar, and he's schooled in a wide range of styles, crossing more borders than fireworks.
While his home might be in country " like his place outside Tulsa " Junior Brown's felicitous tastes run from "Foxey Lady," off his last studio album, 2004's "Down Home Chrome," to surf-guitar medleys and extended blues workouts.
Brown began playing clubs in 1966, when he was just 14. He soon dropped out of school to make music for a living, which he'd do for the next couple decades on the strength of his guitar playing. In 1980, he got the idea for the combination instrument he calls the "guit-steel," but it wasn't until five years later that guitar maker Michael Stevens delivered the custom instrument. Brown played it that night.
He longed to front his own band. While teaching guitar at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music at Rogers State University in Claremore, he had a student, Tanya Rae, whom he told one interviewer he "kept after class." The pair married a couple years later, helping Brown make the transition from sideman to leader.
"All of a sudden, it's not about showing up and getting paid. You have to do all this other stuff and hire people," he said.
He debuted in 1993 with "12 Shades of Brown," and followed it later that same year with the very successful "Guit with It," featuring two of his signature tracks, the rockabilly rave-up "Highway Patrol," and his humorous, "ex-con lover on the lam" story, "My Wife Thinks You're Dead." Its video won a CMA Video of the Year award, which Brown parlayed into ads for Lipton Iced Tea and the Gap, and appearances in "The X-Files" and the 1997 Brendan Fraser vehicle "Still Breathing."
Brown recorded four more albums since, showcasing both his adventurous musical spirit and ample wit.
"I'm just not real good at writing the 'I love you / I need you / I miss you / Where are you' type of songs. And I don't like the 'go-home, get drunk, kick the dog, and cheat on the wife' stuff. So I'm pretty limited in what I can write," he said.
While he's remained a dedicated road dog, he has just returned to the studio with a new batch of songs.
"We're just in the beginning stages, so there's not a lot to talk about right now. But it's going to be a good one, I can tell you that," Brown said. "When I get ready to do an album, I need to be ready. You can't just put down the words and expect that you're going to keep writing great songs."
Junior Brown performs at 10 p.m. Friday at Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E. Sheridan. "Chris Parker