A few weeks ago I published a post about Steely Dan co-founder the late Walter Becker. While working on that post I had a chance to think about the music of my childhood. I hear so many people speak about how they enjoyed the music during the early and mid 1970’s. Certainly I am no different. However, each person’s experience with the music that surrounds them in childhood is different. For example, I grew up on Chicago’s south side surrounded by Blues, and most certainly R&B music. Jazz was a constant inside my home, but also pop and rock music was a big part of my young years. That musical exposure included that of this weeks’ featured artist Jackson Browne. I doubt that I am the only Chicagoan from the south side who listened to the music of Browne. Maybe I should explain why I feel that way.
During the 1970’s, even though I was surrounded primarily by Blues and R&B, a variety of musical genre’s were available by way of radio and television. Therefore, a young kid was not fenced in by only one style of music. Because of several radio stations, American Bandstand and the Midnight Special, all hit music was on display. Yes, including the music of Jackson Browne. The 1970’s were Jackson Browne’s career best. Most people exposed to any music knew about Browne at the time.
Jackson Browne was known for more than his music. All of his life he has also been known as a political activist. Therefore music, political and his environmental activities were well documented. Perhaps the reasons why might be found if we looked into his early life.
Browne was born October 9, 1948 in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father Clyde Jack Browne, an American serviceman, was stationed for his job assignment with the Stars and Stripes newspaper. (Stars and Stripes is an American military newspaper that focuses and reports on matters about the members of the United States Armed Forces. It operates from inside the Department of Defense, but is editorially separate from it, and its First Amendment protection is safeguarded by the United States Congress,) Browne’s mother, Beatrice Amanda (née Dahl), was a Minnesota native of Norwegian ancestry. Browne has three siblings. Roberta “Berbie” Browne was born in 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany; and Edward Severin Browne was born in 1949 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His younger sister, Gracie Browne, was born several years later. At the age of three Browne and his family moved to his grandfather’s house, Abbey San Encino, in the Highland Park district of Los Angeles. In his teens he began singing folk songs in local venues such as the Ash Grove and The Troubador Club.
After graduating high school in 1966, Browne joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, performing at the Golden Bear (Huntington Beach, California) where they opened for The Lovin’ Spoonful. The band later recorded a number of Browne’s songs, including “These Days”, “Holding”, and “Shadow Dream Song”. He also spent a short time in his friend Pamela Polland’s band, Gentle Soul. Browne left the Dirt Band after a few months and moved to Greenwich Village, New York, where he became a staff writer for Elektra Records’ publishing company, Nina Music before his eighteenth birthday. He reported on musical events in New York City with his friends Greg Copeland and Adam Saylor. He spent the remainder of 1967 and 1968 in Greenwich Village, where he backed Tim Buckley and singer Nico of the Velvet Underground. In 1967, Browne and Nico were romantically linked and he became a significant contributor to her début album, Chelsea Girl, writing and playing guitar on several of the songs (including “These Days”). In 1968, following his breakup with Nico, Browne returned to Los Angeles, where he formed a folk band with Ned Doheny and Jack Wilce, and first met Glenn Frey.
Browne’s first songs, such as “Shadow Dream Song” and “These Days”, were recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tom Rush, Nico, Steve Noonan, Gregg Allman, Joan Baez, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, the Byrds, and others. Browne did not release his own versions of these early songs until years later. Soon after this, Rolling Stone mentioned Browne as a “new face to look for” and praised his “mind-boggling melodies”.
During the early 1970’s, Browne signed with his manager David Geffen’s Asylum Records and released Jackson Browne (1972) produced and engineered by Richard Orshoff, which included the piano-driven “Doctor My Eyes”, which entered the Top Ten in the US singles chart. As a youngster I heard the song and right away it became one of my favorites. Of course, I was very young but aware of my musical surroundings. Perhaps the groundwork was being laid even back then for me to eventually become a music blogger. Long before the internet was created.
By the late 1970’s, Jackson Browne had recorded five solo albums and was a major artist. Running on Empty, recorded entirely on tour, became his biggest commercial success. Breaking the usual conventions for a live album, Browne used only new material and combined live concert performances with recordings made on buses, in hotel rooms, and back stage. Running on Empty contains some of his most popular songs, such as the title track, “Rosie”, and “The Load-Out/Stay”.
During his musical career, Jackson Browne was well-known for his political and environmental activism. All of his activities were frequently intertwined. In spring of 1978, Browne appeared at the site of the Barnwell, South Carolina, nuclear reprocessing plant to perform a free concert the night before a civil disobedience action; he did not take part in the action. In June 1978 he performed on the grounds of the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant construction site in New Hampshire for 20,000 opponents of the reactor. Political protest came to the fore in Browne’s music in the 1986 album, Lives in the Balance, an explicit condemnation of U.S. policy in Central America. Flavored with new instrumental textures, it was a huge success with many Browne fans, though not with mainstream audiences. During the 1980s, Browne performed frequently at benefit concerts for causes in which he believed, including Farm Aid, Amnesty International, post-Somoza revolutionary Nicaragua, and the Christic Institute. The album World in Motion, released during 1989, contains a cover of Steve Van Zandt’s “I am a Patriot”, a song which he has performed at many concerts.
Later this week Jackson Browne is making a concert stop here in South Florida. He has not slowed a bit in his musical, political or environmental efforts. Very impressive for an artist that celebrated his sixty-ninth birthday in October.