In Search Of: Chad Brown on Rare Country From Prison, Johnny Paycheck and the Phillipines
Chad Brown is an L.A.-based DJ and the singer/guitarist in CB Brand, and he may well know more about country music than anyone you're likely to encounter in this city. He is a true historian who recalls the backstories of each record in immense detail--from how he found it to how and when and with who each record was recorded. He's traveled as far as Malaysia to find country records and understands the secret reason why whiskey is best suited for country music.
What are some of the rarest country records you own? And how did you find them?
This first one is on Mega Records. It's kind of a weird one. It ties back to Johnny Cash and Folsom Prison. It's this guy Glen Sherley. He was this guy in Johnny Cash's Live at Folsom. He has this song in there called "Greystone Chapel" which is about the chapel in Folsom Prison. The night before Johnny Cash went on stage at Folsom the warden had given him this song written by an inmate named Glen Sherley. Johnny Cash went back and listened to it and thought it was amazing and the next night as a surprise he said, "One of your inmates wrote this beautiful song ..." and played it. It catapulted Glen Shirley into this weird infamy. After he got out of jail he got himself together and cut this record. It's him live in a prison, backed up by a prison band. It's an amazing dialogue--just about every song is about being in the clink. This album was recorded in '71, and the sad story is by 1977 Glen Shirley had sort of become ... the world had become too much for him, and he took his own life with a tractor in Salinas. His record is kind of poignant when you listen to it. My favorite track is called "Frisco Song," and it's just a balls-to-the-walls hard-living album for me. It took me forever to find it, and ironically enough I found it in a thrift store in Salinas on the old main street. They had a bunch of books and crap, used Tupperware ... of all the places in the world to find it, I found it in this thrift store. I've never seen it anywhere else. It's a very rare record.
Is that the best record you've ever found in a thrift store?
It's right up there ... it's probably the top one. There's two I have, and they were found on either coast of the country. The Glen Shirley is the west coast candidate for rarest country find in a thrift store. We do love his album, and wherever he is, I raise my glass to him, and I'll be thankful for him during turkey dinner.
What's the east coast candidate?
Well it's gonna take us to the southern part of Florida to a town called Boca Raton. I was back there like 14 years ago on a road trip to Key West. We ended up in this place called Homestead, Florida. I went into this little bookstore and found this record. It's on the Soundwaves label. I guess it was a very small label out of southern Florida. The name of the album is Champagne, Cocaine, Gold Chains, and Silver Cars. It's by this guy Pete Harris, and it's this really bizarre concept record. I don't even know what concept--it's art as art, life as life. Every song is either about cocaine, marijuana, living the high life ... it's got a hand-drawn cover of a Rolls-Royce driving over rocks of cocaine. There's a large bottle of champagne with Pete Harris' name on it. The Glen Shirley is pure hard living country honky tonk, but Pete Harris is more lounge country. He has songs such as "Fishing for Square Grouper," which is the bundles of marijuana that they dropped off the key and had to go fish it out with a boat. Another hit is "Learn the Backroads," and then the title track "Champagne, Cocaine, Gold Chains, and Silver Cars."
That's the biggest party in one song title I've ever heard of.
Yeah! To make it my favorite east coast find, it comes with a 8x10 glossy photo of Pete sitting on the running boards of al old Rolls-Royce and it's signed "Appreciate the support, Pete." These two are these weird things. They're very territorial in a way. They're kind of products of the regions I found them in. The Glen Sherley one is kind of spooky in the way that I found it in the same town he took his own life, and the Pete Harris one is a testament to the party vibe that was going on down there. You read the lyrics and it's kind of this Jimmy Buffet-esque via the Beatles via Jean Watson ... cosmopolitan country. You should probably lick it and rub it on your gums.
Pretty crazy out there!
That's my coast-to-coast. Let's bring it in a little here. When I moved out here in 2001, I went up to Bakersfield--this little town called Oildale. Oildale, way back in the '60s, when everyone was coming down to Capitol Records to record their hits--Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, the whole nine years--there were between 14 and 18 24-hour honky tonks servicing the oil field workers. It was a vibrant fertile ground. The pickers would come off the fields, stay for a while, go down to Capitol, and there was this feeder between L.A. and the oil fields in Bakersfield. We went up there to the last honky tonk left in Bakersfield called Trout's in Oildale. It's the last one functioning, though it has changed in the last couple years. When I was up there in 2004 we met this guy named Bobby Durham. We went up there to see the king of the trucker honky tonk, this guy Red Simpson--who's still playing--but this guy Bobby Durham was managing Trout's when we were up there. He was just sitting there in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts, dark sunglasses in a dark club, and we went back across the street to the house he grew up in, and he said Mommy and Daddy Durham had died on the couch we were sitting on. He was a session guy throughout the 60s, and he was on HighTone Records in the late '80s, early '90s, and that night I made a trade with him. I gave him a couple records of mine for one of his, and it's called Where I Grew Up. The cover is wind-blown--maybe a UPS truck or a Mayflower moving van had blown by him on the side of the 99 going to Bakersfield. His hair's all wind blown and he's got his guitar on him. He has a killer band on it: James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jaydee Maness, Ronnie Tut--pretty much all the Elvis band on this thing. It's very smooth Bakersfield west coast-style country and the title track is about being unemployed and watching his wife go off to work while he's doing the dishes and that's not how it is where he grew up. Every song is that working man's kind of music. Track two, side two, a song called "Dance Real Slow." I'm just a sucker for really romantic ... stuff you can take a little champagne to with your lady after a long day working, hot rolls in the oven and do a little slow dancing. It's a crazy slow Bakersfield love jam.
That's really sweet!
This is the third record that I've only ever seen when I found it, so it's pretty rare. I've heard of people finding it, but it's something you should always look for out there. I play it every chance I get and it's beautiful--it's just beautiful. We can take a departure next. It's not really country, but it's the country where we are, Los Angeles, California. It's on Folkloric Records, which is a tangential label of Arhoolie Records, the legendary record label in El Cerrito, near Berkeley, way back in the early '50s. It's a collection of Texas-Mexican conjunto, from the '30s to the '50s. This thing is amazing. I DJ this Jalisco bar on 3rd and Main, near 5 Star Bar, and you can mix some of this old conjunto music in. It's basically a Mexican trucker bar where you can play a Bobby Durham track and follow it with Narciso Martinez, the famous conjunto player. It's interesting to me because it breaks down the barrier, and the next thing you know people are passing Coronas into your hands and people are dancing. As far as country as country can go, way back when, it's definitely not subtle. It's Arhoolie label on their Folkloric Records subdivision. You can tell the readers that if they're ever in El Cerrito, there's this place called the Downhill Record Shop, which is pretty much the headquarters for Arhoolie Records but it's a fully functioning old school vinyl shop and they're having a huge sale. Chris Strachwitz, who started Arhoolie, is unloading his personal collection and you can find incredibly rare stuff now from the early '60s. You have to go up there and look for the most amazing treasures from this guy's attic.
Wow--thanks for the tip!
Let's go onto the next ... in the Elton John-Leon Russell kind of thing, from the duets album, Elton's sort of trying to help Leon get back into the limelight. Back in the early
'80s, when Leon had a studio in Burbank, he had a label called Paradise Records. They're really hard to find, and they almost sound like home demos. They were put out on Warner Brothers but they're hard to find. This album is called Americana. On the cover, Leon's looking pretty rough--a little blown out--with a little puppy in his lap.
Cute! What kind?
I don't really know what to think about that right now. It's this little white puppy. A lot of the tracks on Americana were covered by everybody's favorite record industry freak Kim Fowley.
Kim Fowley is amazing but what a weird place for him to show up!
Yeah, there are some amazing Kim Fowley tracks on here. My favorite is "From Maine to Mexico," which sort of goes back to the Glen Sherley-Pete Harris axis. It kind of spans the country--"I'm gonna follow you from Maine to Mexico" kind of thing. It's this very strange ... it sounds almost like home demos, but they're a bit nicer. The last track on side two of course is "Jesus On My Side." I hope people start to revisit his older catalogue. This Paradise label put out some amazing things. You can even see it on the internet. I think there is some presence of Glen Sherley for that matter. You can track down some actual footage because Leon had the Paradise studio, and had like a three-camera movie studio in there and made these films almost like public access. You can see pictures of him and really great performances by other artists. Paradise Records--who knew? Then coming back down to the home stretch here: Johnny Paycheck, everyone knows, he's a well-known country guy, spanning from hard honky tonk in the '60s in Nashville through the outlaw movement into the crazy 'take this job and shove it' '70s stuff. This one particular record I have was put out on Little Darlin' Records. In the early '60s Johnny Paycheck met this guy Aubrey Mayheu, and they started Little Darlin' Records, and even the Little Darlin' Records Johnny Paycheck cut are a bunch of different styles, gospel, hard country, honky tonk, ballads. These records are very collectable now because of the sound that these guys got. They're very echo-y--like they almost sound like they were recorded in a music hall. You just layer things out, it's like ready made for a jukebox or an AM radio. It's pure country--uncut country music. I found this records a couple years ago in Madison, Wisconsin. I just remember it was a really cold day, and the name of the record store escapes me, but I think it was something like the Record Barn. It was old--World War II era, and it was freezing inside, like if you dropped a record it would shatter. They had us hunched under a blanket drinking coffee out of a mug watching a ball game. I have a bunch of Johnny Paycheck Little Darlin' records on their own, but this is a very strange comp called Johnny Paycheck: The Early Years. On the cover it's this water-color illustration of him as a young man, as a middle-aged outlaw, and wearing a welding hat all coming out of the same body, like this sort of ... the dog that guards the gates of hell, this three-headed dog, but it's Johnny Paycheck. It's this great 20-track breakdown of his early years. It's the best of this guy's stuff on this label. My favorite track is "California Dreams," cause I'm a sucker for any country song that talks about California because that's my home now and I love it.