Ariane Vigna Ariane Vigna | April 9, 2021 |
Ever dream of meeting Paul McCartney? Sad you never got to talk to Kurt Cobain? Now, you can share in these experiences and more, living vicariously through renowned music journalist G. Brown.
Brown has navigated the musical landscape for decades as a journalist and a radio personality. He covered popular music at The Denver Post for 26 years, interviewing more than 2,500 musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Bono.
Brown has been published in Rolling Stone and National Lampoon, all the while hosting and programming a myriad of Denver-based radio stations. All that hard work really adds up, and the trusted reporter recounts his interviews with celebrities in new a 21-volume series called On Record.
Ultimately, this vibrant collection will cover 20 years of music, from 1978 to 1998. The first three volumes (1978, 1984, 1991) were released at the end of 2020, and six more volumes are in the works. Sales of the books benefit the Colorado Music Experience, an arts and cultural non-profit founded by G. Brown that preserves the legacy of Colorado music history by maintaining an archive of podcasts, documentary-style videos, interview-based profiles and photo galleries.
We got a chance to sit down with the music journalist and ask him all about his experience chatting with so many legends.
How did you begin your career as a music reporter?
The movie Almost Famous, which is about a young writer interviewing bands, really reflects my experience. What he did in San Diego, I did in the Rocky Mountains. I was a lucky boy. I knew my junior high school band wasn’t going to play at Red Rocks, so I channeled my passion into writing about music and rode my bike to the local suburban newspaper with some silly record review I wrote. I don’t know why the guy published it, but he did, and I was on fire. Back in the day, if you had clips, you were a writer.
One of my first interviews was with a gentleman named Joe Walsh. Back then, he had just moved to Colorado and was trying to debut his new band in Denver at this little bar. I show up in the afternoon and I was obviously underage, so they didn’t want me in the bar. I said "if you can tell him I was here, it’d be great." I was getting ready to leave when Joe Walsh stuck his head out the door, walked over to my car and proceeded to talk to me for an hour and 15 minutes. God bless him for doing this interview with me, because I thought, “I’m going to interview everybody.”
I always aspired to be a rock reporter as opposed to a rock critic, because I didn’t want to pretend that my taste was superior to anyone else. I wanted to talk to the boy band, the one-hit-wonder and the superstar at the stadium, the snappy dresser or the person with great looks—anyone I could. If they were gonna talk to someone, it was gonna be me. I was always dedicated to getting a quote, even if I was reviewing an album. I wanted to be a conduit for the reader to hear from the artists themselves and not just my opinion.
G. Brown and Dolly Parton
What was your experience over the years chatting with so many legends? What were your most memorable interviews?
When the Rolling Stones were coming to town, the paper I was working for didn’t have it in the budget to advance the show. I was a broke writer because I was never an employee. So I got myself to New York, slept in the airport, and got to Madison Square Garden where they were playing. The next morning at 10 a.m., no one was there. I had my press credentials. I meet the security guys and see Mick Jagger running on the track, on the outskirts of the arena. The guy is still insane when it comes to conditioning when on tour. So, he was running laps, and I waited until he came around, and I jumped in and started running with him. The security guard wasn’t gonna run after me, so for however long it took to do a lap, I introduced myself and asked questions until the security guard told me to get out.
Another one was with Jimmy Buffett. He gave me the biggest compliment I ever got. His manager had declared a moratorium on interviews because of a feud with a magazine, but somehow I was still set up to talk to Jimmy. We had talked before. I started the interview and said, “I know there’s this political situation, and I appreciate that you’re making an exception.” He said, “You’re fair.” That was the nicest thing anyone ever said to me. He didn’t say, “You write what we tell you to,” or “You’re the perfect suck-up” or anything that could be construed any other way. I was being a journalist. That’s what I was trying to do; to bring that standard to that subjective entertainment beat. He was talking to me because he thought he’d get a fair shake, not a slanted one, a negative one or a positive one. That meant a lot.
The last one was with Marylin Manson, the big shock rocker, right after the tragedy of the Columbine shootings happened. People blamed Marilyn Manson because they said the shooters were listening to him and were messed up accordingly, and it was his fault. He was banned from performing, and I put it out there that instead of going on TV and trying to give his take on it in a 30-second soundbite, he should sit down and lay it out. His people agreed, so I went to L.A. in the Hollywood Hills. He was all dressed up in his gear and had candles burning in the house. He got to make his case. It was important to drill him on that stuff.
G. Brown and Sting
What have you learned about the art of interviewing?
Even the cockiest, most arrogant rock stars on the planet love to talk about themselves, so you always have a good experience. I always kept it about music. I was interested in what makes musicians tick.
The more you do interviews, the better you get at it. It’s not like you read the manual beforehand. There’s no shortcut.
I got to come up in that era where there was still a lot of access. Now, it’s the publicist doing the interview. The managers and agents and publicists and people put in place because of the machinations of the music industry are trained to tell you “no," but once you get to the artist, they’re the nicest people on the planet.
What was it like compiling all of these memories?
It’s a joy. Music is memories and these books are high-end nostalgic. I’m so proud and grateful to see this visual archive that I don’t think exists anywhere else. It’s great to tell stories individually. To have this quarter-century of music and show it through this visual prism just feels good.
I can’t say that I knew why I was archiving all this stuff. I thought the photos were important. My wife had to put up with them being in the basement for decades.
I’m not a salesman, I’m just trying to share this stuff. That’s why it was important to do this book series through my nonprofit. I don’t want to monetize history. Music is one of the few things that still unites us. We’re so polarized today.
G. Brown and Nigel Tufnel
Is this book for more than just music fans?
These books are for anyone who is just intellectually curious. They’re valuable for people who have an attachment to the given year of a book. They’re unique and beautifully crafted.
I’m also so thrilled that some of your peers see this stuff and get just as excited. I went into the framing shop to frame the awards I got for the book. Some young 20-somethings were there. I gave them a copy of the book, and they were over the moon and said, “This is when music was really good.” I don’t think it’s a universal take, but it exists.
What can readers expect from your book series?
I’m fiercely proud that the On Record books are not first-person bloviating, or essays on “what it all meant”—plenty of that has been done already. This is reportage, my specialty—musicians talking about a particular recording in a particular year. I don’t want folks to think it’s my memoirs—far from it. They’re as much reference works as high-end nostalgia.
Read more about Brown's adventures in the On Record book series, on sale now.
Photography by: Michael Jensen; Courtesy G. Brown