Local legend Texas Johnny Brown is a living link to blues history. The 80-year-old was a key player in the genesis of the electric form of the genre, penning hits for the likes of Bobby "Blue" Bland, supporting stars like Ruth Brown and recording under his own name as far back as the late 1940s. Combine that with a childhood spent doing street performances across the South, and Brown has quite a biography.
You can hear the tale from the man himself when he appears tonight at the Jung Center for The Soul of Houston: Blues Stories. Music historian Roger Wood will host; Rocks Off spoke to Wood about what makes Brown, and this event, special.
Rocks Off: How is [the event] going to work?
Dr. Roger Wood: I'm going to do a brief introductory lecture about Johnny and what our topic is that night, and then he'll do an onstage interview. We'll probably play a few of his recordings and discuss them to illustrate certain points. Towards the end it'll open up to the audience for some Q&A.
RO: What sort of topics will there be?
RW: With John...he's been there from the start. [We'll talk a lot about] the role of the electric guitar in blues. He was born in 1928, and he heard people play it -- he was born in Mississippi - the blues with the old acoustic guitar. When T-Bone Walker first started breaking the electric guitar in pop culture and R&B, Johnny got all caught up in that and quickly became and electric guitarist. And his life story is amazing...we'll spend some time talking about some of his personal experiences.
RO: So it'll be part musicology deal -
RW: And part personal stories. I mean, we're not just going to go over the standard bio. I'll give you an example. One of the things I'm going to get John to talk about is when he was young, his mother had died and his father was blinded. His father ended up basically panhandling for a living, going all over the South, playing in towns, getting nickels and dimes until they got tired of giving 'em to them, and then going to the next.
And John and a seeing-eye dog accompanied him. So John, at age 9 or 10 or 11, he's traveling in Mississippi in Louisiana, going from town to town playing on the streets. I could go on, but just to talk about those experiences - that was his introduction to the world of being a traveling musician.
They're those kind of mythic stories that most of us that have any kind of awareness of the music, we've heard stories like these. But John - he's still playing gigs and writing songs and making records, and he lived that stuff! The guy's been around a long time...he's an amazing connection to a past that to most of us seems somewhat distant.
7 p.m. at the Jung Center, 5200 Montrose (Museum District). Two more Soul of Houston: Blues Stories installments will include Trudy Lynn October 21 and I.J. Gosey October 28. For information, visit www.junghouston.org/programs/fall/blues.htm.